March Madness, Adventure Guides Pinewood Derby

Pinewood Derby

Gentlemen, start your engines!

The third of month of the year, I know to give my husband some space. It’s the time of year when men engage in the weeks-long attempt to prove their manhood in primitive feats of strength. Especially if it involves beer, swearing, and power tools.

It’s Pinewood Derby time.

My husband and sons belong to the Adventure Guides. It’s a father-son group activity, sort of like the Boy Scouts — only a little less organized.

Instead of starchy blue uniforms, they have t-shirts. One enthusiastic local tribe  dresses up in  something that can only be described as a leopard print toga. Instead of earning badges for skills such knot-tying and starting fires, Adventure Guides earn patches just for showing up.  Bizarro Boy Scouts might be a better description, as the meetings tend to be planned at the last minute, involve some loosely planned father-son craft — marshmallow guns, anyone? — and beer (for the dads) and juice boxes (for the kids).  I really don’t know what Adventure Guides is preparing our youth for. Spring break in Vegas?

One of the more organized events of the year is the Pinewood Derby. When Big Brother first entered last year, I assumed my husband would help him build one of those wedge shaped wooden blocks with wheels, maybe a snazzy racing stripe, a few decals. They sell kits at Michaels, but my husband son likes things a little more… customized. Last year, they brought home a medal for “Coolest Car” with a Star Wars Landspeeder, complete with Lego figures.

Star Wars Landspeeder Pinewood Derby Car

Star Wars Landspeeder Pinewood Derby Car

With both our sons in Adventure Guides this year, my husband had twice the work cut out for him. He’s been holed in the garage since the beginning of February — carving, sanding, drilling. When he’s not working on the cars, he’s searching the Internet for ideas or down at the hobby store comparing paint shades.

When asked what kind of cars they’d like to build, Little Brother answers, “A shark!” I breathed a sign of relief, envisioning a car painted silver, maybe with a some menacing teeth or a fin glued on top. Still, HapaPapa disappeared into the garage for seemingly entire weekends.  Just an excuse for listening to sports and avoiding other household chores, I groused. I have to admit, he may have actually done some work there, as he eventually he re-emerged, bearing this:

Shark Pinewood Derby car
The eight year old was not so easy to please. Or as I pointed out, he was 


easy to please. “I just want to build a fast car,” he said.

“How about a Dagobah theme?” HapaPapa suggested. (In case you aren’t familiar with the entire Star Wars franchise, Dagobah is the swampy place where Yoda lives in Return of the Jedi.)  On a recent hike to the Santa Cruz mountains, I caught my husband collecting little bits of moss and bark. “Wouldn’t this look cool? Just in case he changes his mind about building a Dagobah car.” My husband went ahead and built the car anyway. I suggested he enter it under his own name, but he scoffed at that idea,  “It’s not about the dads. It’s for the kids.”

Maybe it’s just not cool to have your father build a mobile diorama. After all, this is the THIRD GRADE. It turns out that engineering a vehicle for speed takes a lot more time, and less fun, than decking out a show car. They ended up with this ultramodern vehicle:

Red Pinewood Derby Car

Their hard work did pay off, as our family took home awards for both speed and design. You can guess which was which.

Editor’s Note: Lest this be construed as some sort of complaint against the Adventure Guides, let me also add that unlike most kids’ activities, this organization does not require the moms to volunteer — or even attend. Plus, they take the fathers and boys on weekend campouts, giving the mothers some precious downtime. That’s the kind of organization I  support!


  1. EiHop says

    I love it! Sleek AND cool! We did it once (with a less-experienced and consequently less- enthusiastic HapaPapa) and we were stressed out, borrowing tools from neighbors…then asking how they worked….ai-yah! Thanks for sharing your take on it! Very amusing!


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