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Speed on a small scale: Residents compete in first pinewood derby

May 18, 2019

Scott Porter was on a mission Saturday.

“I have to figure out how to go faster,” he said, explaining his notebook filled with numbers and notations. “This is kind of an addiction, really.”

Porter sat trackside on a white folding chair under a white tent that billowed in the wind. He was surrounded by three or four dozen others, all fans of what might be one of the smallest spectacles in racing.

If it’s May, it must be the Fort Wayne 480, an adult pinewood derby tournament conducted on 480 inches of wooden track in the parking lot of Hop River Brewing Co. Co-sponsors were Phil’s Hobby Shop and the Allen County Public Library.

Rules limit car sizes, with overall length no longer than 7 inches, width no more than 2 3/4 inches and weight no more than 5 ounces for the Cub Scout class. Cars entered in the unlimited class are allowed to weigh up to 10 ounces.

Times are measured in thousandths of a second, as Porter’s statistics reflected, with anything under 2.9 seconds considered very fast.

This is the event’s first year, but at least one organizer is already talking about doing it again.

Paris McFarthing, co-owner of Hop River and owner of Phil’s Hobby Shop, stoked the crowd’s enthusiasm during his emcee duties Saturday.

“That was some of the fastest times I’ve seen, so great work guys,” he announced after one set of four cars came flying down the track. “Is everyone having fun? Who’s all going to sign up for next year?”

McFarthing had hoped for 40 entries, but he was satisfied with 29. He plans to approach marketing differently next year and add some building sessions at Hop River and Phil’s in addition to those already scheduled at the downtown library.

“It’s just fun for people who like to tinker and build,” the Decatur man said.

Porter, who entered four cars Saturday, was bitten by the pinewood racing bug about 1 1/2 years ago. Since then, he has advised some Cub Scouts in the art.

“It’s just a great amount of fun and teaches physics lessons, which is really what it’s all about,” he said.

The trick, he added, is to put weight toward the back of the chassis : but not too far back or it could pop a wheel as it zooms down the track.

Rob Rucker of South Whitley entered three cars in the competition. It was a joint effort with his 21-year-old grandson, Nicolas Rose, who lives in Warsaw.

They picked up the hobby when Rose was an 8-year-old Cub Scout and have competed in recent year at the Indiana State Museum on a 125-foot wooden track. Rose has won trophies in the adult category there the last six years, he said.

Rose, who is studying computer science at Taylor University, learned persistence and creativity through the years as he looked for even the smallest tweak that would shave time from his cars’ runs.

One factor that affects times is the track itself.

Each grouping of four cars competed in four heats in Hop River’s parking lot, with each car running each lane one time. Winners were determined by which car consistently placed highest.

“You know everyone has to deal with the same variations” in the wooden track’s lanes, McFarthing said.

Bumps in the wooden track aren’t the only obstacles, however. After a wind gust blew debris on the track, one spectator complained. But McFarthing had a quick response.

“I can’t help that,” he said. “That’s something God did, and I don’t argue with Him.”

sslater@jg.net

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