It was my first experience in participating in a pinewood derby with my son Jeffrey. We had spent a lot of time drawing the car’s design, going to the hobby shop to purchase special weights, shaping and assembling the car, then painting it the colors of our favorite sports team. I must admit I use the term we loosely. I am afraid that in my zeal to make our car competitive, I was the one who made sure everything was done just right. Many times my son was left standing off to the side watching. I was proud of the finished car.
That evening I joined the other fathers on “pit row.” We were all making last-minute adjustments to the wheel alignment, putting on a last squirt of graphite, and checking the weights. I didn’t realize until later that my son, along with some of the other Cub Scouts, were mostly standing back, watching their dads at work.
As the racing began, I changed from my role as engineer to that of cheerleader—and perhaps at times an obnoxious spectator. Our car was doing quite well in the heats, and from all appearances we were destined to go to the winners’ bracket. It was about then Jeffrey came to me.
“Dad, we need to do something to my car.”
In my enthusiasm for the moment I thought, Good, I’ll check the alignment one more time. But that was not what Jeffrey had in mind.
“Steve’s car hasn’t won a single race all evening,” said Jeffrey. I glanced over at Steve, a boy with disabilities, sitting quietly on the sidelines with his car cradled in his arms. From the appearance of his car, he must had done most of the work himself. His next race was against my son, who was looking up at me with great concern. “Can you do something to my car to make sure Steve wins?”
I stared at my eight-year-old son and felt as though a lightning bolt had hit me. Humbled, I picked up the car, studied it a moment, then gave a hard twist to the right front wheel, hopelessly ruining the alignment. I handed the car back to Jeffrey, and we headed over to the track.
The outcome was just as we hoped. Our pinewood creation wobbled down the elevated track, and Steve’s car won easily! As I looked to the finish line, however, I saw not just one winner but two happy boys.
That night changed forever my attitude about the real purpose of pinewood derbies. We have attended many other pinewood derbies since that night, and some might wonder why our cars don’t look as nice as the others or don’t go as fast or why I’m conspicuously absent from pit row. But one thing we know for sure: there is more than one way to win a race.