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Derby racers ready to roll

August 1, 2012
By J.T. Whitehouse , Town Crier

Valley kids are getting pumped up for this year's Pinewood Derby Race at Cars in the Park in Boardman Park this Sunday. The races are expected to draw a record number of participants this year, including the new Open class for ages 13 and older.

The event, part of the Mahoning Valley Olde Car Club's car show, features an electronic race track that is operated by a foot pedal. Track owner Richard Stape of Berlin Center, said he wants to alter his track for reaction times by separating the pedals.

"Last year, both cars left when one of the pedals were pushed," he said. "I want to split that in two, so each car operates separately."

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On Sunday, Aug. 5, three Valley youth will be defending their Pinewood Derby titles in the Mahoning Valley Olde Car Club's Pinewood Race during Cars in the Park. The top three from 2011 includes Mary Garrett of Boardman, Valerie Stape of Boardman, and Michael Mason of New Middletown.

He said the separate operation could be used in the older race groups and the younger children could still have the dual operation. It would allow the older ages to experience real drag racing.

The Pinewood event is in its fifth year. Prior to holding the Pinewood races, the car club held a model car contest, but model building has been dropping off and entries were becoming fewer each year.

The races are divided into three categories including ages 5 to 8, ages 9 to 12, and this year will see the open class for ages 13 and above.

"The open class will have different rules than the normal standards for Pinewood Derby cars," Stape said. "The open class will allow double the wheelbase and double the weight."

In official Pinewood Derby races, the cars cannot exceed five ounces and the wheelbase must not exceed five inches. For the new open class, the cars can weigh as much as 10 ounces and the wheelbase can be up to 10 inches, which will allow for a long dragster or other exotic build.

Dale Garrett of New Middletown, is one who likes pushing the envelope on car construction. He is a retired drafting instructor from Chopin Career Institute. Since retirement, he has helped a lot of young people design and build Pinewood racers.

"I enjoy teaching the kids how to build a Pinewood car," he said. "I have kids from all over the Valley come to my house to make their cars."

He said the key to building a good Derby car is to first meet the specifications. Those specs are listed on the car club's website at

Once the specs are met, the next winning strategy is to get the car as close to the legal weight as possible. Weights can be purchased that screw into the car body, or a person can add weight through various metal items like bolts and washers. One year, a young man glued pennies on his car body for the weight.

As for wheels, Garrett said they have to be aligned correctly. Many use a hot glue gun to get the axles and wheels to line up. If the car is pushed across a kitchen floor and it runs straight, it will do well in the actual race. If it tends to veer left or right, then the wheels need further adjustment, according to Garrett.

Both Garrett and Stape agree that Pinewood can be a bug that once bitten, becomes a passion. Most of the kids who will compete this year are past competitors and a few are defending their title from last year. One returning champion is Mary Garrett, 11, of Boardman, who won the 9- to 12-year-old class last year.

"My grandpa (Dale Garrett) helped me build my car and put the weights in it," she said. "I selected the color and painted it."

She said last year's winning car will be retired this year as she has built a new car.

Last year's 5- to 8-year-old class was won by Madison Hermann. She got involved by purchasing the wood kit from the Mahoning Valley Olde Car Club last year and building it with the help of her grandfather, Jeff Weaver.

"We got the wood and the wheels from the car club, then made it," she said. "I painted it red cause that is my favorite color."

Anyone can enter the races on Sunday, Aug. 5 and for those who don't have a car, the club will have the raw kits available for purchase. Stape said last year a child came in, bought the kits and raced that day. Stape, Garrett, and a few others are always on hand to help any child with their first car and if they come early enough, they could be racing when the Derby starts at 1 p.m.

Stape did say he will have the track open from early morning until noon for any racer who wants to test their car. It will close at noon for one hour before the official race begins.



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