The Full Monty

This is a story about how a simple block of wood for a Pine Wood Derby eventually led me to build something like the car below.

Boys will be boys and the older the boys, the more expensive the toys.
— Grandma Swartz

Pine Wood Derby

One of the best things I ever did as a Boy Scout was compete in the Pine Wood Derby. They give you a wood block, four plastic wheels and four nails. The rest is up to you and your imagination. It started with a simple grill opening and then we drilled it all of the way through. It must be faster that way, right? The car needed to be a certain weight and you can see in last picture that we recessed lead weights into the bottom to get a lower CG and improve performance too bad it was a straight run with no corners LOL. We intentionally made the car heavy so that we could fine tune it atthe official weigh in. Racing is about pushing envelope after all. And no, we didn't use gloves or a respirator when drilling the lead.

Soapbox Derby

I competed in the first soapbox derby in our region. All of my friends and their fathers had entered and there was lots of competitive trash talk. We built the car in the basement and this is where I learned about having the proper tools and the value of people with gray hair. My dad was on a business trip and I had spent several days filing and sanding trying to round the top edge of the car. It looked like someone had done it with a giant cheese grater. A retired neighbor dropped by to check in on me and he introduced me to a router. That was a trans-formative event and to this day I will use any excuse to buy a new tool.

A few days before we needed to drop it off at the pre-race impound we tried to move it from the basement to the garage... D'OH! We realized that we needed to cross through the laundry room and make a tight ninety-degree turn up a flight of stairs. No way was it going to fit. I went into a panic, but my father got that determined look. To let me down plus be known as the father that got the car stuck in the basement was a double whammy that he wasn't prepared to suffer. I think he muttered something like "don't worry, we'll rent a backhoe if we have to." In the end, we pulled off the door frame, notched a few studs and with several friends and appropriate amount of profanity, got the job done.

What craftsmanship. Note the perfectly beveled edge on the entire upper deck. Of great aerodynamic importance was the tape we used to seal the body where it was penetrated by the steering cable. Anyone think that helmet would have done much good?

It was quite an experience for an eleven year old. To top it off, the cars were towed to the top of the hill by the local hot rod club. I wonder what impact a bunch of high-power, tricked out cars might have...


Gravity powered cars were a lot of fun but something that I outgrew. It was time to build something with an engine. But what? Does anyone see a similarity below? A page dedicated to the cobra can be found here.

Superlite SL-C

My latest car project is a Superlite SL-C. It's a major step up from the prior car and I can't wait to get it. I expect to take delivery of the kit sometime in April. More details here: Superlite SL-C