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Posted by Faron Franklin on Thursday, June 17, 2010 Under: Faron's Footnote

       The announcer called my name over the loud speaker with the names of a group of other boys.   Knowing there were hundreds of eyes watching me, I straightened the blue and gold handkerchief around my neck and brushed some of the lead graphite off by neatly pressed blue pants.   I stood up and I walked to the check-in table.

I had already unbuttoned my top button because of the intense heat.  I was not sure if it was from the bright lights or the fear of standing before the large crowd.  All I know is I could feel the sweat trickle down my back as I picked up my Pinewood Derby car and headed toward the track.  The large wooden track would eventually release my car and allow gravity to pull my hand-made vehicle down the ramp to the finish line.

I had already won all my troop races which took me to the district competition.   The district challenge proved to be successful too, carrying me to where I was today---the state level.   If I won this competition my car would be awarded best in my state.  

I was now standing in the Kentucky Exposition Center on the Kentucky State Fairgrounds in Louisville, Kentucky.   I had already completed the official weigh-in and had won several races through the day, but one more loss would eliminate me from the competition and send me home defeated and humiliated.  

Each race brought tension as I anticipated the pull of the lever and watched the cars streak down the track with increasing speed.  Just thinking back on it makes my muscles tighten with tension.   I wanted to win so bad for me, my Troop - Pack 270 and my Dad.

I remember the day my Scout Master passed out the kits at our Scout meeting.    Each kid was given a small box that contained a rectangular block of wood and four small nails with which to attach the four plastic tires which were also included.  We were instructed to cut and shape our cars any way we saw fit with the oversight and assistance of our Dads.   As he gave the instructions I was already creating the perfect race car in my head.  I heard him talking, but I was thinking about how I was going to shape this block of wood into a mean, red, racing machine.   By the time he had finished with his instructions I had the perfect image of what I desired my car to look like.  All that was left was getting my Dad to see it.

By the time I told Dad of the project I had already drawn an image of what I expected our finished product to resemble.  He looked over my plans, made some suggestions, and we were off to my Grandfathers to use his workshop and tools.

As Dad slid open the large door on Granddaddy’s workshop we walked into the smell of grease and oil that permeated the space.   Tools covered every inch of the four walls and large workbench that stretched the length of the building.  Hanging overhead were old automobile and mower belts, saws and other paraphernalia that gave the impression that nothing left this place without being repaired.    Even the floor was cluttered with tools, buckets of screws, nails, and remnants of past projects.  As we came inside, we walked an oily path to a vise mounted on the workbench.  

Dad offered a few bits of wisdom about aerodynamics then he tightened the wooden block in the large steel vise.   With a small handsaw he began to cut away the wood to outline the block into the discussed shape.  While he cut, I assisted him by holding up my hand-drawn architectural plans so he could continue to refer back to it.  I felt much like a page turner who sits on the bench with a concert pianist to hold the sheets of music into place; not doing much, but the job would be impossible without me.

After comparing the newly formed piece of wood to our plans, my Dad handed me a piece of coarse sandpaper.  Showing me how to rub the thick paper with the grain of wood instead of against it, I labored diligently to smooth out all the rough surfaces.  Dad watched over my shoulder as I worked, giving pointers as I paused occasionally to blow away the dust and observe my work with a smile. 

At this present stage I have nothing that looks like a racecar.  Actually it resembles a long wooden cigar.   Yes, my car appears quite strange.  However, all I could think was how the slender body would cause it to zip to the finish line like a bullet, leaving the competition in the dust.  I kept telling myself that my fellow competitors would never expect that something that looks like this could win so handily.

The next step of the project excited me.  It was time to position the wheels to the body of the car.  My block of wood had made some major transformations, but finally it would actually look like a racecar with the wheels turning at its side.

After a study of the regulations we discovered a major problem with our design.  The slender body caused the wheels to fit too close together.   So instead of bolting down the track like I anticipated, the lead bars on the track that guides the cars to the finish line would rub the wheels, causing my car to lag behind all the others.  Thankfully, Dad had a solution.  He found another block of wood and cut from it two square pegs a little more than a quarter inch in diameter and about two and a half inches long.  We used these as axils for the front and the rear of the car.   It was in these pegs that we gently nailed on the tires, and through some skillful engineering from Dad, we attached the axils to the car.  Dad had discovered a way to make the impossible possible.

All that was left was to name the car and choose a paint color.  A slick paint job would visually identify the car and the proper name would make it unforgettable.  

My Dad and I tossed around several names that embodied a winner.    Bullet was one we both really liked.   Speedy, Flash, Zippy, and The Blur were also added to our list of possibilities.  Then Dad jokingly suggested the name Slow Poke.   I fell in love with it immediately.  I thought, ”The other cars will never see it coming.”

Choosing the color was simple; it had to be red.  That was in my original vision from the beginning.   Red just seemed like a fast color.     With a small paint brush and a tiny cup of candy apple red model paint I made the car shine with color.   Then with Dad’s help, and drops of white paint, I scribbled the name on the side with bold letters---SLOW POKE.

Again, referring back to the regulations we discovered that we had another problem.  The car did not weigh enough.   We were quite short due to the fact we had stripped away much of the wood to make the car fit our design.   So the official rules stated that if your car was underweight you could add weight to bring it back up to scale.  With a drill, Dad bore a hole in the front of my car.   We then took several fishing sinkers out of my tackle box and placed them in an old empty tuna fish can.   With a match Dad lit a small propane blow torch.  As he held the tuna fish can with a pair of pliers over the blowing flame the sinkers soon turned into a molten liquid.  Slowly dad poured the hot lead into the hole in the car.  Immediately the smell of the burning wood tickled my nose.   When the liquid cooled it became a solid again, thus giving my car the needed weight.   After some gentle sanding and some touchup paint, our car was completely finished and was ready for the race track.  

I eagerly anticipated every race.   When the first competition arrived, I won against my fellow troop members.  Then I went to the district competition at the Shelby County Fair Grounds.   Now…here I was with Slow Poke competing at a statewide level at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds. 

Earlier that morning Slow Poke lost a race.   I was hurt, but was not out.  It was through a double elimination process that you were no longer able to race.  It was nearing the end of the day.  Everyone left in the competition was tired.   The sun had already set and the time was nearing 10 o’clock.  There were only a few of us left and the crowd had dwindled from its earlier mass of people.    

As I stood with the next group of racers with my car in hand, I squeezed the tube of graphite, releasing a powder of lead around the tires of my racecar in hopes that it would give it the extra boost needed to finish first.  After the announcer called my name over the loud speaker, I straighten the blue and gold handkerchief around my neck and brushed some of the lead graphite off my neatly pressed blue pants.   I stood up and I walked to the check-in table.   I prepared for the race of my life.

At the beginning, I never thought that I would be able to get to this level, but now here I am, and I want to win this race.  I was tired, but I would stay there all night if it meant that I could leave the Kentucky State Pinewood Derby a winner.  I was nervous, but I calmed my nerves by watching my family in the stands cheering me on.   I knew it would be a long ride home if I didn’t win.   I wanted this one really bad.

The track master motioned for us to place our cars on the track.  I purposely waited to be the last scout to position his car on the starting gate because I wanted no chance of someone accidently hitting my car and knocking it off center.  With great precision, I laid my car on the track and with laser like vision I positioned it with great purpose.  Slowly I stepped back from the track and walked to the finish line to watch the race. 

When the whistle blew, the cars were released and gravity took over.  The cars came racing toward me with great speed.  Slow Poke came barreling down ahead of all the other cars.   Each second I felt closer to victory.  Then, ten feet from the finish line, Slow Polk fizzled out and two other cars passed him, putting me in third place.

As I received my ribbon and posed for some pictures the adrenaline began wearing off and I could begin to feel my body wilt with each passing minute.  Although I had been able to stay in the competition all day and eventually had claimed third place, I did not feel much like the big winner.   People came forward and congratulated me with smiles and hugs but my exhaustion and defeat did not allow me to accept the encouragement.

The drive home was fairly quiet.  The hour was late and everyone was short on conversation.   As my sleeping sister and I leaned against each other in the back seat I watched out the window as the street lights streaked past our moving brown Monte Carlo.    I think my parents thought I was asleep. 

My body was tired, but my mind was racing through the events of the day.   I began to reflect on what went wrong.   Could I have used more graphite on the tires?   Did I position my car correctly on the ramp?   Did I have a tire that was causing friction against the axel? 

As I debated the cause of my failure in the back seat, Mom began a conversation with my Dad, mentioning another boy in my Boy Scout Troop.   The thought of Erick reminded me of a Scout meeting a few weeks back when Mrs. Evelyn told us that Erick was not at that week’s meeting because his dad had died from a heart attack.   She passed a sympathy card around the table and we all signed it for Erick. 

The gentle purr of the engine served as a tender lullaby.   As I begin to drift off to sleep I reflected on the experience of building my little red car with my Dad.  I remember the extra time he took with me to complete the project.  I recalled the precise way he taught me to use sandpaper for the first time.  I could not forget his intense attention to detail, so much so, it was often frustrating.  While I was concerned with only completing the project he was concerned about making it the best.   His attention to detail taught me that a project worth doing is worth doing right.

I was happy that I had a Dad that loved me enough to invest that time with me and to teach me the importance of doing the best in all I do.   I was also blessed to have a Dad.    Erick depended on Mr. Aldridge to help him with his Pinewood Derby car.  I am sure it was fun and he appreciated our scout master’s help, but it was not like having your Dad - your real Dad - at your side. 

As I closed my eyes I realized that I may not have won the race today, but  I was a winner---a big winner.   I had a Dad that loved me and was there for me.   As I snuggled in next to my sister I held Slow Poke in my hands.  It was my Trophy for having the best Dad in the world.  In spite of not winning the race, I was the big winner that day.

I have come to realize that everyone has a Heavenly Father to stand by them.   Our Heavenly Father also works with us, sacrifices for us and guides us so we can be the best we can be.   We are so blessed to have this loving Father.   If you are a faithful child of God you can be sure you will win the race even with some disappointments and setbacks in your life.

In : Faron's Footnote 

Tags: dad  father  father's day  pinewood derby  heavenly father  assistance  blessed   


Faron Franklin
Mcdonald, Pa
Faron Franklin