RED OAK — It is early Saturday morning, with more than 50 race team members in the shop. The sounds of drills, saws and sanders along with the chatter of car preparation discussions echoed through the room. Patterns were laid out for guides on work tables along with rules sheet.
Does this sound like garage alley at Texas Motor Speedway?
No, it was the fellowship hall at First United Methodist Church in Red Oak. This is where Cub Scouts from Pack 228 and their race teams, also known as mom and dad, set up in the temporary work shop. The teams set out to create this year’s winning pine wood derby entry.
The Scouts of this pack were among hundreds of Cub Scout packs across the country celebrating a scouting and racing tradition that has been in existence for more than 50 years.
Each Scout is provided a standard size pine wood block, four plastic wheels and four axles (nails). The basic rules are they can only use these materials provided. They cannot lower the car, extend the length more than the block’s original length, cannot change the wheel base and the car can weigh no more than 5 ounces.
Using these materials, they carve out any race car shape they desire. There were cars called wedges, some called slabs and more traditional-shaped custom cars and trucks. This year’s entries also included a tank and a slab that resembled a printed circuit.
As the Scouts sketched their car’s design, dads and volunteer helpers began cutting out the often intricate shapes. Each design included where to fit the required weights to get as close to the 5-ounce weight as Scouts, dads and sometimes moms discussed how best to propel their entry the fastest down the sloped track.
As the cars began to take shape, a team meeting was held between the race chairman and the team pit bosses, typically the fathers.
“Now we are going to closely follow the district rules this year so if a car gets to the district race there will be no surprise,” chairman Scott Sackett advised the teams.
“Will there be any rule changes after the race start? What about changing wheel base? Can we use last year’s winning entry?” were many of the questions asked.
After two weeks of planning and race preparation, the big day is almost upon the teams. The final touches are made on the paint jobs, wheels are positioned and lubricated and the cars are ready for final tech inspection.
As with any race, there are technical inspectors who checked the cars out to ensure rules were closely followed. They also checked that the cars were assembled well enough so they could complete in the several runs to determine the final decision.
“Several cars were sent back to the pits for weight adjustment,” weight inspector Jennifer Fowler said. While she was sending some back, she also provided the boys with under weight cars “how to” assistance to get them closer to the limit.
The other half of the inspection team was Gary Fowler, who was charged with seeing that the cars were within size limitations.
All cars had to pass the Fowlers’ scrutiny to reach final registration and a berth in pit row.
While contestants and the technical inspectors were making final adjustments, the track crew was busy with final preparations.
As with their NASCAR counterparts, the track crew, headed by track master Terry Brown, carefully inspected the surface for loose joints, bumps and dips. The starting gate was tested several times, essential to ensure a fair start of the four-,lane track.
Finally, the timing equipment was set up and tested to measure those photo finishes. And there were several. The light sensors were calibrated measuring finishes within several decimal places.
With Brown certifying the track ready to go and the cars in the pits, racers and crews were ready for the big race day.
It was race day at last and fans, including family members, started filling the grandstands. The racers were divided by rank groups, starting with the youngest, the Tiger Cubs.
In the pits, final lubrication and minor adjustments were made to the wheels hoping to shave micro seconds off their time.
Finally the owners line up along track side on “Racer Row.”
At last, the first group of cars are set in the starting gate. The race timing crew signals the track is ready. A heavy “clunk” sounds.
Then, the thundering roar of racing cars, traveling down the track toward the checkered flag begins the race. In slightly more than 10 seconds the first winner sets the pace. It takes several races to determine the lowest average time.
Tiger Scout winners were Jodhan Perez taking the checkered flag. He was followed by Gage Buckner in second and Colt Thomas cruising in at third.
The ritual was followed for the next groups with Wolf, Bear and Webelos competing in their respective age groups.
Top Wolf finishers were Mathew Sackett taking first, followed by Grant Fowler and Cory Flemming.
Bear qualifiers taking top honors were Scotty Kemper, second place going to Mathew Aris followed by Cordell Hill in a very close third.
The Webelos were the veterans of the racers. The veteran racers used past successful plans while others tried new designs seeking the top trophy.
From the group, Spencer Stevens used his experience not only to capture first place in his class, but also took race grand champion honors in the finals heats. Other Webelos finishers were Joseph Shepps taking second and Hayden Arismendez holding on for third.
For fans seeking more, a consolation race was held by the troop sponsored by the church. Fine tuning their previous racing skills, the boys lined up for their chance to race down the hill.
Chris Hardi finished the series of heats with the best overall time. Jason Arismendez followed close for second and Jared Barked qualified in at third place.
By late afternoon, the concession stand closed, and the race crowd clean up was completed. But the race is never over.
Strategies were discussed and evaluated.
As the cars were loaded up, plans were already being made for what the racers will do different next year.