Opportunities Abound

When I was about eight years old, I was introduced to a wonderful and exciting sport which took up a good month of my time each year for a total of five years.  It was at that time in my formative years that I was introduced to the Cub Scouts. 

Now I’m not going to sit here and suck the next few minutes out of your life by extolling all of the benefits and virtues I gained from participating in that program.  Instead, I’m going to talk about one particular activity which takes place within the Cub Scouts.  That activity is the Pine Wood Derby.

If you’ve never participated in this activity either as a kid or a parent, I highly recommend it.  The whole event revolves around racing cars made of wood (pine; that is) down a specially made track and onto glory. 

I was involved in the creation of five cars in total.  There was one for each of the three years I was a Cub Scout.  Since my little brother was involved too, I was able to participate in an open division in the two years after I left the Scouts where he was still in it.

TharpSter Brother's Pine Wood Derby Car

The creation of these cars starts with a block of wood, four plastic wheels, and four nails which serve as axles.  From there, you break out your drills, sandpaper, chisels, palm sanders, jig saws, sandpaper, circular saws, sandpaper, an adz or two, sandpaper, fishing weights, sandpaper, some graphite, and assorted paints in order to construct the fastest 5 ounce block of wood known to exist in the tri-county area. 

Did I mention sandpaper?

You may have noticed that I indicated earlier that I was involved in the creation of five different cars in my pine wood derby days.  That’s kind of a strange choice of words, don’t you think?  Wouldn’t you think that if I had actually built my five ounce speedster all on my own, that I would have said so?

You betcha.

Perhaps I should take a moment or two to describe my upbringing.  Short of the fact I was the short pudgy kid that got picked on a lot; I led a pretty normal life.  In those years attending elementary school, junior high, and high school, I signed up for and played five different sports, played two different instruments, and participated in a show group which played sell out venues to captive audiences at retirement centers, hospitals, shopping centers, and Shiners’ halls throughout the metropolitan area.  I was never in need for anything, yet at the same time I wasn’t overly privileged either.  I wasn’t abused, but I was disciplined with the side of Dad’s boot or a 3 foot section of orange Hot Wheels track known as “The Orange Paddle”.  I have no emotional scars from those sessions at all.  I grew up in what anyone would consider a normal life.

That’s not to say that I have no emotional scars though. 

In fact, the most vivid memory I have of a parental borne atrocity which could be perpetrated on an 8 year old kid is the mere audacity that Dad possessed to commandeer the construction of my first five pine wood derby cars, along with the three which my brother was involved in.

I’m not bitter though.

After all, I did get the wonderful opportunity to sit on the stool in the corner with shaved block of wood in one hand and a sheet of high grit sandpaper in the other.  I know they weren’t diagnosing Attention Deficit Disorder back in the 70’s, but if they were, Dad had a way to find its catalyst.  If Dad didn’t have me sanding that car, he would have had me looking for the left handed coping saw instead.

In addition to sanding that stupid block of wood by hand, while sitting on a stool next to the shelf where Dad kept the palm sander, I did get the chance to paint it too.  Granted, the main thing we did in the decoration of those cars was to put them in an open box and spray them down with a high gloss spray paint.  Detail pin striping was then put on once the paint was dry by “a steady hand”.  Does anyone here know of any 8 year old kids with “a steady hand”?  As the years progressed, the painted detailing evolved into sticker detailing instead.  If memory serves, a couple of those cars did pretty well in the races that followed.

Did I mention that I’m not bitter about my limited involvement in the construction of my pine wood derby cars?  I’m really not.  In fact, the entire event has been a running joke between Dad, my brother and I for at least the last twenty years.  It took my brother and me about 10 to 15 years to get over it before we could start laughing with Dad about it. 

There was a point about 10 years ago when my very own opportunity had presented itself to construct a pine wood derby car all by myself.  My son had shown an interest in the Cub Scouts, and a pack had formed at his school.  We were a few months into the school year, and the Pine Wood Derby was coming up.  The boy was only 6 or 7, and I didn’t really feel good about him taking any sort of drill, jig saw, adz, or melted fishing weight to a block of wood.  Wifey would have never forgiven me if I let the boy do some woodworking, only to pull back a bloody nub.  Fortunately, sanding isn’t a very dangerous process when you do it by hand.  You can do it just about anywhere.  All you need is a comfortable stool and a corner to put it in.

With the boy’s ultimate safety in mind, I set out to constructing the Pine Wood Derby car.  I even called Dad a couple times in that process.  I didn’t call him for guidance though.  I called to brag.  “Hey Dad, guess what?  I’m making a Pine Wood Derby car.  Now I can get rid of all of that emotional pain you caused me all those years ago when you hijacked mine.  How does that feel?”  Dad just snickered.

Unfortunately, the construction of that car never bore fruit.  At some point when I was working out the logistics of hiding a magnet in the nose of the car, the Cub Scout pack with which we were affiliated broke up.  I don’t know all of the details involved.  What I do know is that there would be no derby for me (and my son) to participate in that year.  Maybe there would be a chance next year.

Next year never came.  Even when a new pack formed a year or two later, my son wasn’t interested.  Do you remember a couple of years ago when the New England Patriots went undefeated the entire season, only to lose the Super Bowl?  Can you imagine how every die hard Miami Dolphins fan as well as every member of the 1972 Dolphins felt when the Patriots fell short in the Super Bowl?  I’m pretty sure that deep down; there was a little voice in Dad that was feeling the same way.  I had a chance to steal his thunder in my grasp and it slipped away.

Well my friends, lightning may not strike the same place twice but wonderful opportunities tend to repeat if you know what to look for.  My son is 16 now, and far from getting involved with a Pine Wood Derby.  My 14 year old daughter is not interested in advancing women’s rights via the Cub Scouts either.  I have a couple of nephews who will be scouting age in a few years; however their fathers have cooler tools than I do.  It would be a severe breach of man-law to even consider hijacking the construction of my nephews’ cars anyway.

Just when I was at the point where I had written off the opportunity of constructing my own Pine Wood Derby car until the arrival of a grandson, a chance has come up from the one place where I never would have expected it.  That’s right people.  We’re having a Pine Wood Derby at work.  I don’t know who suggested, approved, sanctioned, or funded it, but I’m all for it. 

I have a few weeks to design and build a car.  A name for the TharpSter SpeedSter is still in the works.  If I’m lucky, I can get good ole Dad to come into town for a few days to help me out with it.  After all, I’m going to need help sanding that bad boy.

Randy Tharp

TharpSter is a husband to one woman, a father to two kids, a master to two dogs, an occasional cubical occupant, and unable to make up his mind on an adequate theme for this website.

One thought on “Opportunities Abound

  1. I am *so* glad to finally know that your dad inflicted more anguish on you with this, than I ever did with the orange paddle! LOL (And he and I now both have proof in writing that you had a normal, non-abusive childhood!)

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