Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice needed

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tomormatt
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Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice needed

Post by tomormatt » Wed Mar 05, 2014 4:37 pm

I am super impressed with the site and wealth of information it contains. As background, I am the Cub Committee chairman for a small (20-25) pack. My son is in BSA now, but I did the derby with him from 2010 to 2012. We won the derby each year, but it is more because it is not an ultra-competitive pack. Most parents are pretty good about letting their son drive the process and the majority of entrants do not do anything beyond polishing axles, making sure the car weighs 5.0 ounces, using lubricant etc.

With that as background, I was recently called as the Cub Committee chair and just assumed the responsibility for the derby last week because it was not coming together otherwise. We have an older wooden track, but outsourced the derby to a local vendor who had a BestTrack / Champ timer the years my son participated. I tried to convince the committee that buying a track was a better option as we spent $400-$500 each year on the outside vendor, but our troop is affiliated with a church and getting something like that funded is difficult. I was not present for the derby last year, but by all accounts it was a disaster. The pack used the old wood track and tried to have parents determine the winners by eyesight. Not sure who thought this would work as we saw with the vendor in the previous years that results are often decided by fractions of a second. As you might expect, we had some competitive parents who were upset, but the worst part and the ultimate result was a poor experience for the boys.

I recently assumed the responsibility as Cub Committee chair and found that the plan was to use the wood track again and find a timer that would settle the results. After doing some research, I am pessimistic about getting a timer in the next couple weeks that will work with our track. I am not sure I would be comfortable in my ability to properly work a timer and/or running the risk that timer is ultimately incompatible with our track even if went that route and got a timer like the Judge.

With that lengthy background (hope I still have a few people reading), I decided that I have four viable options. We can proceed like last year with the wooden track and no timer, we can try to find a timer that works with our track and hope everything works properly, we can outsource again at a cost of $400 - $500, or we can buy a new track and timer. I know how much the derby meant to my son and the thought of another derby like last year is unacceptable to me so I went ahead and just ordered a 3-lane BestTrack and Champ timer. The cost is significant ($1400 w/ s&h), but I am going to cover the cost out of pocket for now. I will see if the pack can figure out funding in the long run and will sell the track to the pack if they can, but will assume the risk that I may end up owning it myself. We have an affiliated pack in a neighboring town (our pack is sponsored by the LDS Church so we have another pack in the "stake" for those who are familiar with the setup) and I am hopeful that we might be able to fund the track and have both packs share going forward.

We handed out kits at the Blue and Gold last month and the only rules are the ones included in the kit. I was not involved in this and would have much preferred to issue an explicit set of comprehensive rules, but that ship has sailed. My specific questions are as follows:

1. How difficult is the initial setup with the BestTrack going to be? I am planning on spending the day before setting it up and conducting some tests, but we will not have much time between the arrival of the track and the derby itself so I am worried about something not working. I think the BestTrack / Champ / GPRM is the best option for getting something that works "out of the box", but am curious if this is naive or if anyone has suggestions to mitigate the risks.

2. I have already received calls from dads asking about specifics as it relates to the rules. The first question was whether wheels can be lightened. In reading the language included in the kit, the rules on wheels are that the wheels supplied with the kit must be used and they cannot be cut, drilled, beveled or rounded. They allow removal of the seam. I think many of the terms are open to interpretation, but want to be able to explain why making the wheels lighter by removing material on the inner portion or why using a lathe is not allowed (if it is covered by those rules). I see the language on "cut" and "rounded", but does that specifically mean making the wheel "round" with the use of a lathe or prohibit removing the material on the inner portion as that would be "cutting"?

I will obviously have a much more exhaustive set of rules with specifics next year. I am already prepared that this will be more of a learning experience this year and I will have the time and ability to make major improvements for the derby next year, but would really appreciate any and all advice that you think will help this year. Thanks in advance.



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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by BallBoy » Wed Mar 05, 2014 5:13 pm

:welcome:
tomormatt wrote:How difficult is the initial setup with the BestTrack going to be?
I suggest allowing at least 3 hours for the initial setup of just the track. Allow more time to get the timer installed and working as well as time to get familiar with GPRM. A friendly tip that you don't see published much, but I have learned from experience is to not have any cords run underneath the track and avoid having any cords involved in timing come in contact with any other cords.

As far as funding your track purchase, I understand your situation and think you'll have a tough time getting reimbursed for such an expense. Your wife must be a wonderful person. I suggest you rent the track out to other packs in the area to recoup the costs. Once you have broken even, if you don't want to own a track you can donate the track.



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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by tomormatt » Wed Mar 05, 2014 6:14 pm

Thanks for the input. I am planning on setting up the night before to allow plenty of time. I will remember to be cognizant of the cord placement.

I am reasonably confident I am going to be the proud owner of a new track. I am also the committee chair for our BSA unit (troop, varsity team, and venture crew) and I am thinking I could help the older boys rent the track to raise money for the unit. I will feel better about the expenditure if we can get more use out of it than once each year.



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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by FatSebastian » Wed Mar 05, 2014 7:47 pm

tomormatt wrote:I think the BestTrack / Champ / GPRM is the best option for getting something that works "out of the box", but am curious if this is naive or if anyone has suggestions to mitigate the risks.
While you are waiting for the track to arrive, you might put some thought toward the race schedule and scoring, and plan for other contingencies in case the software approach doesn't work out. Given the short timeline, I would want to attempt setting it up the day it arrives, just in case there is missing or damaged components, etc.
tomormatt wrote:In reading the language included in the kit, the rules on wheels are...
Can you post your rules? From what you describe, the do not sound the standard Rules-In-The-Box, which say nothing specific about wheels except "Only official Cub Scout Grand Prix Pinewood Derby wheels and axles are permitted."



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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by tomormatt » Wed Mar 05, 2014 8:16 pm

You are correct on the rules out of the box. For some reason I thought that language was from the sheet included in the kit, but I must have confused it with the rules we used when my son was in the pack.

I guess this is more of a free for all than I had originally thought. Although our pack is not ultra competitive, I now have a vision of people showing up with ultra thin wheels. When I get back with the dad's who have called, I will let them know the requirement is they use the wheels in the kit and leave it at that.

Although not my preference, I guess one school of thought with looser rules is that it will reward the boys who theoretically put in the most effort. Unfortunately, putting a wheel in a lathe is more often the dad's effort.

In light of this, how can I verify the wheels are from the kit? In the past, I could at least look at the markings. If someone creates an ultra thin wheel, what is left to inspect that is from the original wheel?

I appreciate the advice and will set up the day the track arrives to get familiar and discover any issues that could be fixed. I am going to load the software in the next couple days to get familiar with it.



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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by tomormatt » Wed Mar 05, 2014 8:23 pm

I intend to have the boys registered and in the software in advance. I am planning on using an average time having each entry do one heat in each lane. One reason I went with the whole system is I want to use a time based system and was not comfortable with any timers that required installing a switch at the starting gate.

I considered using heats / awarding points for position and will use that as a fall back if I cannot get the timer working properly in the short time period.



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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by Stan Pope » Wed Mar 05, 2014 8:39 pm

Consider getting someone who is well versed in GPRM operation to assist you in a dry run of the event. Then keep his phone number close at hand on race day!

Also, if your district or council holds races, get a copy of their rules and make them available to your families. Anyone who wants to run in one of those events needs to build accordingly!


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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by tomormatt » Wed Mar 05, 2014 8:58 pm

Great idea. I have emailed the round table participants soliciting help from anyone familiar with GPRM software.

Our pack does not send winners to district (probably one reason that our pack is not overly competitive) so I do not have to worry about winning entries at the pack level being out of compliance with district rules.

Any thoughts on easiest method to run on GPRM? I had wanted to use an average time, but would go with an easier method if people familiar with the software think another method would be easier to run.



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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by gpraceman » Wed Mar 05, 2014 10:16 pm

tomormatt wrote:...we spent $400-$500 each year on the outside vendor
That's a whopping huge amount! What all did that include? The going rate in our area was $250.
tomormatt wrote:...or we can buy a new track and timer.
...I know how much the derby meant to my son and the thought of another derby like last year is unacceptable to me so I went ahead and just ordered a 3-lane BestTrack and Champ timer. The cost is significant ($1400 w/ s&h), but I am going to cover the cost out of pocket for now. I will see if the pack can figure out funding in the long run and will sell the track to the pack if they can, but will assume the risk that I may end up owning it myself.
Our pack paid off the initial investment of the track setup by running races for other packs. We charged $250 a race and had it all paid off in 1-1/2 years. We came in, setup the track, timer and computer, ran the computer for the race, and then packed everything up. The pack did everything else. If there is a dad or two that would be willing to help in that endeavor, that might be something that you consider.
tomormatt wrote:...We have an affiliated pack in a neighboring town (our pack is sponsored by the LDS Church so we have another pack in the "stake" for those who are familiar with the setup) and I am hopeful that we might be able to fund the track and have both packs share going forward.... I think the BestTrack / Champ / GPRM is the best option for getting something that works "out of the box"
Make sure that you understand the licensing for GPRM. It does not allow for the sharing of the software between packs. If each pack is running their own race, then each needs their own license.


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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by tomormatt » Wed Mar 05, 2014 10:31 pm

I thought the amount was ridiculously high, which is one of the reasons that I told them to consider purchasing the track as it would pay for itself in a few years. We are in Southern California so everything seems to cost more in this area. I was told that they contacted a couple vendors and everyone was in the same range.

The outside vendor did a great job and did everything (setup, check-in, running the races, take down, etc.). We projected the race results in real time on a big screen. Everyone commented how much fun the events were compared to previous years.

If I can get the other pack to split the cost, we would share a track and timer only as the software will be installed on my laptop. How did the license work for you when you rented / ran the event for other packs? I am assuming you used your copy of the software or did you buy a separate license for each pack and build that into the cost you charged.



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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by Stan Pope » Thu Mar 06, 2014 12:29 pm

tomormatt wrote:Our pack does not send winners to district (probably one reason that our pack is not overly competitive) so I do not have to worry about winning entries at the pack level being out of compliance with district rules.
But, if there are district or council races in which your boys could participate if they desired and/or qualified, then now is the time to let them know about the car tech. specs.


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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by gpraceman » Thu Mar 06, 2014 1:06 pm

tomormatt wrote:We are in Southern California so everything seems to cost more in this area.
That's why we moved out of SoCal. Too expensive, higher traffic, higher crime, poorer schools, etc.
tomormatt wrote:How did the license work for you when you rented / ran the event for other packs? I am assuming you used your copy of the software or did you buy a separate license for each pack and build that into the cost you charged.
We ran the computer for those pack races, so it was our pack's license that we were using. That complied with the license. If those packs were running the computer, then they would have needed their own license. If your pack runs the computer for the pack that you will be sharing equipment with, then that would be in compliance; otherwise, they would need their own license.

As a bit of a disclosure, I am the author of GPRM.


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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by tomormatt » Thu Mar 06, 2014 1:19 pm

That is a good point Stan. I should have probably mentioned that our district (Ventura Council) has not had a district-wide derby for the past couple years. At round table last month they indicated they are going to try for one this year in June. I have contacted the individual who is taking the lead on this and asked for specifics on the rules. They are still formulating them, but I should have them by the time we do our derby so I will distribute to any boys who want to participate. The council had stopped doing a derby a few years ago because participation was low. In an effort to get as much attendance as possible, they are allowing any scouts in the district who raced in their pack race to participate. We are doing it at a local mall with an information table to collect contact information for anyone who might be interested in scouts.

I just heard that one of our neighboring packs has the same setup as I have ordered. They may have their derby the same night as ours, but the individual who runs their event could be a resource when I try to do the initial setup. If the event is not the same night and before ours, I am going to attend and see how they do it.

Thanks to everyone for the continued feedback.



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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by tomormatt » Thu Mar 06, 2014 1:26 pm

Thanks Randy and congratulations on your software. I have worked in software / Saas for the last 15 years (on the finance side as a CFO), but I have seen enough development cycles to know the effort it takes to create a product like that. Rest assured we will comply with the license requirements.

I have had the same thoughts about Southern California and we grumble about the high taxes that never seem to lead to better roads or schools (where does all that money go?), but this is the time of year that I grumble the least. I spent many winters in really cold climates and made a promise to myself when we moved here that I would never live in cold weather again. I know that Southern California is not the only warm weather area, but it is tough to move away when your kids have been in their schools as long as ours have. We have a daughter graduating high school next year, but our son is just starting middle school so we are probably here for at least another six years. After that, I will most likely move to somewhere that does pass targeted tax increases and even after they pass still tell you that you are not paying your fair share.



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Re: Newbie assuming derby responsibility - much advice neede

Post by tomormatt » Thu Mar 06, 2014 1:40 pm

Just went through our District newsletter last month that announced the district Pinewood derby. The wording on rules is as follows:

"BSA rules will apply and a copy is included in the kit".

I would guess that we are in compliance as we (just coincidentally) did the same thing. I am a little worried as this is the first year we are doing a district-wide derby that the rules are that wide. I am thinking that some scouts may participate this year and be racing against some entrants that are heavily worked over. I am all for boys who are rewarded for putting in the time, but like when the rules limit the scope to what most boys can generally achieve with their own supervised efforts. I like putting in as much effort as the rules allow, but realize that not everyone will have access to or think to use wheels that are precision machined with a CNC lathe. I have offered to volunteer / help as much as possible as I would love to see a more vibrant derby culture in the district.



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