It’s Pinewood Derby season for Scouts.

Engineer dad refuses to lose.

The boy designed the car body and did a good job at making it aerodynamic.

In his words “it’s slick so the air moves around it.”

I’ve been truing and polishing axles, burnishing wheels, applying bake-on graphite dry films, casting lead weights (I refuse to buy $20 tungsten weights), etc.

For the first time in a while I’m glad I’m not in Huntsville anymore.  I’d be going up against actual fucking rocket scientists.  Guys who design their Scout cars with CFD and machine them CNC.

My wife keeps reminding me this is another boy having fun.  This isn’t just a Scout competition. This is my reputation as an engineer.

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By J. Kb

16 thoughts on “Engineer dad refuses to lose”
  1. I approve of your engineering attitude, but I would say the right answer is to have your Scout do the work and you only do the teaching.

    When I was a scout, I wanted to build a new antenna setup for the annual Jamboree on the Air (scouts + ham radio) event. My father helped me work out the design. The center part was a cylindrical object that would mount on a mast, support one part (a whip antenna on an insulator) on top and another (a metal sleeve, essentially a drain pipe) downward surrounding the mast. I figured out what it should look like. So my father took me to the university machine shop, handed me a hunk of steel, spent 15 minutes showing how the lathe worked, and said “go to it”. This is when I found out that drilling an inch-plus hole in steel without first drilling a pilot hole is not good practice. The hole got made but I’m not sure the drill was much good afterwards. I did make the item I needed, and without breaking either the lathe or myself. 🙂

  2. In my pack, we had a separate parent/sibling catagory. That helped to reduce the cars being built by the parents. You could usually tell at weigh in–the Scout wasn’t allowed to touch the car.

  3. My son learned how to carve out the underside, then add #8 shot and superglue to get up to 5 oz. No need to cast weights.
    Shop teacher dad.

  4. When my son was in cub scouts he built his car and did all the work. But when he got to the track it turned out that the weights on the bottom of the car were two low and hit the guide. I rushed home and quickly made a couple of aluminum risers to put the axles into to get the car to clear the track guides.

    This was all legal according to the rules.

    The amazing thing was the amount of push back I got from a couple of other fathers.

    My son’s car was designed by him. He cut it out. He sanded it. He painted it. He figured out the weights and got the weights on it.

    He did all of the work on the axles. Yes, he had access to my shop and I guided him on some of the things. And I did do things like make the mandrel he used for holding the axles and wheels while he polished them.

    But he did the work. I made the risers so he could compete.

    Two of the cars had been machined on a CNC router. Three of the cars had paint jobs that looked better than my car. The amount of labor that went into them far exceeded the abilities of the cub scout that supposedly made the car.

    But those dads were so upset at my son’s car that they tried to get it disqualified.

    No, my son didn’t win the race. He didn’t win anything. But I was extremely proud of the fact that it was HIS car.

  5. When I was a Scout my engineer Dad helped me with my racer. Polished the axles, 3-in-one oil on the axles just before the race, cut out the “seat’ area and drilled into the body with a large bit and crammed as much steel wool as we could into the resulting cavity.put the previously cut out “seat” block back in and weighed on a postal scale. By the time I’d finished sanding, and painting the body, yes complete with flames, the car was right at the maximum weight limit, but looked box stock. Unfortunately, the scoutmaster’s son just took a big honkin’ ball bearing (1.5 inches or so) and taped it to the car. I knew his car was over the weight limit, because mine was right at the limit and his was way heavier, but he was the scoutmaster’s son. Even so he just barely beat me.🤬

    1. We almost got in trouble with weights. I use to make fireworks. This requires measuring small amounts of different chemicals very accurately. To this end I had purchased a triple beam scale. I think it is good down to 0.1grams. When my son was weighing his car we got it within 0.2grams of max weight.

      Turns out that the scale the scouts were using wasn’t as accurate and consistent as the scale we were using. It would have been very easy for us to have been right on the numbers and then have had their scale read differently.

      It would also have been possible to tweak the weight up a little bit based on the limits of their scale.

  6. Don’t steal the Space Cash !
    Space Cops get pissy bout that.
    Just sayin, or the Aliens will isolate earth from the rest of outspace and NASA wont have anything to piss money away on.

    We shall see who get its. 😉

  7. Former cub scout troop leader here. Yup, dad’s aplenty at that event (and curiously absent at a lot of other events – hmmm). Although yes, I did help my son, I also helped every other kid in the pack who didn’t get the same “engineer dad” attention to their car. Multiple kids were invited over to my house where we practiced cutting wood until they could feel confident enough to make cuts on their derby car. Cars were shaped, holes were drilled and lead fishing weights melted down (by me) and poured into the holes. Wheels were polished and axles graphited. Paint applied to their taste. Mom’s were grateful and fun was had.

    Until my son got second place to the winner who’s car I helped with. That’s really hard to explain to the wife.

    Other fun times were bringing a bunch of balsa wood scraps, some minor hardware, paint, and a box of treble hooks to the regular scout meeting. All the kids carved out fishing lures (no dads present at that event) and we attached hooks. The next Saturday we all went to the lake at the park and several actually caught fish. Fun times.

    Anyway, if you’re an engineer dad building your kid a super car, be sure and check around the pack for other kids without dads, or without dads that help. I always got a little disgusted by the intense competition the pinewood derby brought out in parents who barely showed up for anything else. And felt bad for the kids who had no help.

    And if you’re a troop leader, pro tip here, make a few extra cars on the side. The kit only costs a few bucks. There is always one or two kids that get excited and drop their cars at the event, breaking wheels and axles. Having a spare car ensures they at least get to race something. Not a lot of fun to get there and not race at all.

    1. I brought my sanders and sanded everyone’s car last week. I also volunteered my shop for a pack meeting for my drill press and to help.

      The latter off was not taken up by anyone.

      1. I wasn’t calling you out specifically – didn’t mean to imply that. Sorry.

        I led and/or participated as a troop leader for over a decade and saw all sorts of problems with absent parents. Just throwing my comment out there for general readership. As fun as that competition is for kids with parent involvement, sometimes you gotta cover for other parents. Depends on the pack.

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