Life-Lesson Learned by an 8-Year-Old, at the Pine Wood Derby
The excitement in the room was palpable. After all, it was an 8-year-old boy’s 1st entry, as a Cub Scout, into the regional area prestigious “Pine Wood Derby”. The “Super Bowl”, World Series, and Olympic Gold Medal” combined, paled in comparison to the coveted 1st Place Winner of the “Pine Wood Derby” Race.
Hundreds of Cub Scouts, from dozens of area Scouting Pacts were given a block of Pine wood and a set of instructions and rules & regulations. Indy 500 Race Teams were burdened with less demands, than those placed on the block of Pine wood, and the shoulders of an 8-year-old boy. However, the Cub Scout had his father to lean on, if needed.
Some fathers interpreted their guidance to mean complete usurpation of race car design and production. Their son’s only function was to carry their car entry in a brown paper bag to the grade school gym on race day. There were designs sleeker than a Ferrari, paint finishes more pristine than a Rolls Royce, and craftsmanship requiring the most advanced CNC machine. (Apparently, Integrity of the Child’s Involvement was NOT a race requirement.)
My friend’s son cut his block of Pine wood down to size with a saw, under his father’s concerned eye. The boy than carefully and slowly shaved and shaped the remaining wood with a sharp hand-held wood chisel until his car resembled what he had hoped. The final rounding and finishing touches were accomplished by hours of sanding. That entire process intuitively followed Michelangelo’s succinct comment on how produced his epic masterpiece sculpture of “David”: “I simply removed everything that wasn’t “David”.
My friend’s son then painted some car sections black, and the remaining sections red – his favorite colors. The finished product was weighed on the kitchen’s spring scale. The car met all size & weight requirements. Dreams of hoisting the coveted 1st Place Race Trophy seemed inevitable.
While standing in line at the grade school gym, my friend and his son caught glimpses of the other “Pine Wood Derby” race cars. My friend’s son certainly wasn’t going to win “The Best in Show Style Award”. However, that was a pitiful consolation prize for the race losers. The ONLY PRIZE that counted was the 1st Place Trophy for the FASTEST CAR.
When father & son reached the “Official Entry Table”, his son handed his car to be measured and weighed. It met the length & width measurement standard. HORRORS. His Car Was Over The Weight Limit. Apparently, the kitchen spring-scale lacked the precision of the official race digital scale. Tears of disbelief and dejection streamed down the boy’s cheeks.
Fortunately, a neighbor, next in line, saw the problem and offered a solution. He pulled my friend and his son aside, and said that he had a small saw in his tool box:
- He would simply cut off a piece of wood behind the rear wheels, and the car should qualify. It didn’t.
- He cut off a block of wood before the front tires. Still too heavy.
- Finally, the neighbor pulled out a cordless drill, and began drilling holes in the bottom of the car. It qualified.
But, the 8-year-old boy was devastated.
It would have been better to have gone home with a disqualified car, than to be subjected to the cruel taunts and derisive laughter of his peers. The boy refused to carry his car to the starting line, for the first qualifying race. His father handed the car to the official starter. The boy didn’t even watch, but turned his head when he heard that his car won.
He proudly presented his car to the official starter as his car won one qualifying race after another. Only the final 6 fastest cars remained in the race. The race track was highly lacquered, tilted to the precise angle, with an electronic starting gate, and a photo-optic finish-line. Raised wooden lane barriers separated cars from crashing into one another.
The fastest car should be the most aero-dynamic, with the best lubricated axles, traveling in the straightest line. Except, that day, a butchered block of Pine wood, that sounded like a run-a-way calliope, BEAT THEM ALL. The original jeers turned to cheers, as my friend’s son hoisted the 1st Place Pine Wood Derby Trophy over his head, as he had dreamed.
The Above YouTube Music Video Captures the Essence of the Blog Post Message: Never Give Up.
Outside, my friend asked his son, “What lesson did you learn?” (He didn’t expect to hear Kipling’s poetic advice, “To treat Triumph and Disaster just the same.”) He did expect hear some version of, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try, again.” Or, Winston Churchill’s entire “Commencement Speech” at a prestigious Private Boarding School: “Never, Never, Never, Never, Never Give Up“.
Instead, his 8-year-old son said, “I learned that something really ugly, could go really fast.”
Oh well. It’s not a philosophical insight, or poetic inspiration, But his joy was real, and…Priceless.