Building a derby car can help parents and children bond

Teaching Your Child

Teaching Your Child

February 29, 2008|By LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

There's a block of pinewood on my husband's bureau. In previous years, similar pieces of wood have turned into a camouflage roadster, a bright pink flowered automobile and a red and silver wedge on wheels.

Our church's annual pinewood car derby inspires children and their parents. The cars seem to get faster every year, and the designs never cease to amaze me.

Typically thought of as a scouting event, pinewood car derby competitions also are held at area churches that have AWANA or Master Club programs.

It's a great way for parents to spend time with their children, says Steve Trevitz, an engineer at Volvo Powertrain who has helped to coordinate the competitions at Calvary Bible Church of Greencastle in Greencastle, Pa.


"Your child gets to know you in a different way," agrees Larry Bird, who has been helping his children build pinewood cars for about 10 years for the races at Emmanuel Baptist Temple, west of Hagerstown. "When the kids are younger, you become their hero."

Each step of the car-building process can be educational.

Children learn that before beginning a project, it's important to have a plan, says Trevitz. Deciding on a design is part of the fun.

"My suggestion to fathers is to listen to what the kids say," says Bird, a father of three. "No matter how cool you want the car to be, if your child wants a pickup truck with a goat in the back, make a pickup truck with a goat in the back."

Bird was speaking from experience. One year his daughter's pinewood car became a pinewood truck. With a goat in the back.

"The biggest piece of advice I would give is do your research. And do your research with your kids, so the kids understand why you're doing what you're doing," says Brian Smith, of Mercersburg, Pa. His research has included using the Internet to learn about pinewood cars.

Smith, a member of Emmanuel Baptist Temple, encourages his children to carefully polish their axles.

"If they want to have a fast car, they need to spend time polishing," he says. "You want to get rid of any friction."

They also add graphite to the wheels to enhance a smooth run.

Once the child has an idea for the design, a pattern needs to be drawn. Bird says he draws an outline on the wood block with a pencil. He follows the outline when he's cutting out the design.

For a fast car, a wedge shape works best, Smith says.

Trevitz refers to that design as a minimum amount of wood with a maximum amount of lead.

Most competitions have a weight limit, usually 5 ounces. Weight should be added to the car to get it as close to the weight limit as possible. Trevitz has used .50 caliber musket balls designed for use in a muzzleloader gun. Speed enthusiasts melt the lead and pour it into a hollowed-out car.

Some pinewood car builders use brushes to apply paint. Others like to spray on the paint.

Trevitz recommends allowing plenty of time for the paint to dry.

"Cars that are wet with tacky paint will not roll fast," Trevitz says. "Let them dry long before you put the wheels on."

For a finishing touch, Smith's children apply car wax with a buffing cloth. Bird likes to put a clear coating on the finished product.

"It smoothes everything out and gives it a high gloss finish," he says.

After assembling the car, put it on a flat surface and make sure it goes straight, Smith recommends. If it doesn't, carefully bend the axles.

Once the car is assembled, encourage your child to enjoy the excitement of the day, win or lose.

"Truly random events determine the outcome," says Trevitz. "Some cars get faster as the races go on and some get slower."

Go figure.

To see a local pinewood car derby, visit one of these churches:

· Tri-State Fellowship, 13153 Cearfoss Pike, Hagerstown, Sunday, March 2, from 2 to 5 p.m. For information, call 301-790-1774.

· Emmanuel Baptist Temple, 16221 National Pike, Hagerstown, Saturday, March 15, beginning at 9:15 a.m. For information, call 301-582-0378.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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