Posted: July 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

Pinewood Derby Not for The Rookies

FRIDAY, 19 APRIL 2013 13:29
scandale_opt_copy_copy_copy_copy_copyBY FRANK SCANDALE

It’s 8:20 a.m. at a typical New Jersey suburban train station.

New York City-bound commuters go about their business – reading, staring at smartphone screens as if they bore the winning lottery numbers, sucking down coffee and then there’s the occasional dinosaur reading a newspaper.

It’s relatively calm and quiet when a pair of typical suburban father types wearing rain repellant gear and one a New York Yankees cap arrive in a small commotion usually reserved for backyard barbecue debates about should the Jets keep Tebow.

“Oh, S—!’’ cries the Yankee fan, scrambling to pull out his cell phone. “You have to take this call. I don’t know what I’m talking about,” he tells his buddy, whom I know socially from town and is not a panicky type.

Must be an early, big business call they forgot about. It happens. At least to me. In today’s 24/7, always electronically leashed, email heavy, text message happy business culture, a meeting at 4 a.m. under a street light in Hoboken is not out of the question. (a meeting on a trapeze in a Club Med in East Africa is not out of the question….or during a prayer service at a vow-of-silence monetary is not unheard of)

photo1_opt_copy_copy_copy_copyAs I braced for this hedge-fund type phone conference, my guy looks at me, grins, shrugs his shoulders as he takes the phone and says, “Pinewood Derby.”

Those two words should put fear in the hearts of accomplished fathers everywhere. From Wall Street darlings to pro football players, those two little words have the capacity to render grown men silly with trepidation.

Guys, you know what I’m talking about.

It seems that Yankee fan’s wife was in a bit of stir because she thought tomorrow was the last official weigh-in for the local race. They apparently were unprepared for such an event.

As this Saturday (April 20) looms, the Pinewood Derby district finals are upon cub scouts everywhere. For a scout and his parental unit, it doesn’t get any harrier than this.

I shuddered at the memory. Ah, for that event to be in my rearview mirror of parenthood was no small thing

The year was 1998 and my older son was doing the cub scout thing. All in all, it was a fun father-son operation, but having not been a scout growing up in Brooklyn, the Pinewood Derby to me was a lighthearted social event designed to foster camaraderie , good will toward all boys and have a few laughs.

Right. And a New Jersey gubernatorial election is free of mudslinging.

As directed, we picked up our kit consisting of a square piece of soft wood, a couple of axles, a few wheels and some assorted building materials. Some lead weights. Some glue. Some graphite that supposedly if sprinkled correctly on the car it can hit speeds of up to 90 mph, or the equivalent of such going down the track.

Let me first admit to this – craftsman skills skip every other generation in my family. My father once built an international space docking station out of a piece of plywood and a radiator. That spell it out for you?

But this was good father and son time. We chunked out a seat area with the dexterity of a backhoe on an egg and used some other blunt instruments to shape the rest of the wood . After what seemed like six years of effort, we had something that looked like it was made by Spanky and the Gang in Stymie’s backyard.

But man, it was red.

Father and son were pretty puffy around the chests, yes we were, and looked forward to the races the next day.

Like a lamb to a slaughter, we took our fine, fine automobile to the races on the opening round.

As we entered the school lobby where the last weigh-in was held, I got that same feeling that I had when I walked into Spanish I in 10th grade in Westfield after just having moved to town from Brooklyn. Everyone was already speaking like Ricky Ricardo.

We placed our car on the table to be weighed in front of a table of guys who could have sat on the Politburo. They peered at us over their reading glasses, as if we were in the wrong place. They placed our car on the scale and we were under weighted by like a pound. (cars’ maximum weight is 5 ounces)

“Need more weight,” one said, unsmiling.

“How do I do that,” I asked, noticing serious dads behind me who carried plastic drill and tool cases. I mean everyone had them. They looked like they worked at GM.

“Borrow it around the room. Quarters, too, will work. Tape them to the car,” he said.

So that’s what we did. By the time we were close to weight, our car looked like Jed Clampett’s truck pulling into Beverly Hills.

Proudly, we entered the first round. People snickered at our red speedster. While kids and dads murmured that they hoped they would win, I prayed the wheels would not fly off on the first run. Just let us finish.

Don’t ask me how, but our car won the first heat. I mean, it should have exploded upon impact, but somehow it slid past five other cars. Stunned silence from the crowd.

My son did a cartwheel. I said a novena. The officials thought about impounding the car.

We lost the next heat to the car that eventually won the local race. I didn’t care. As far as we knew, we were now Pinewood Pros.

Good luck, kids, this weekend. And dads, bring some tape and quarters.


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