News from New Zealand

General race coordinator discussions.
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heatsink
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News from New Zealand

Post by heatsink » Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:03 am

As a brand new member to the forum, I thought I'd introduce myself and share my recent PWD experience. I've been a Cub leader for about 20 years (based in Christchurch, New Zealand) and until about 3 months ago had never heard of the Pinewood Derby. Our Scouting Zone (Torlesse) recently held a Six Leader training camp and we were looking for a fun activity to wrap around the leadership training sessions. Our Zone Cub Leader had participated in a PWD as a Cub in the US, and suggested we hold a derby at the camp. To our knowledge there had never been a Pinewood Derby in this area before.

I volunteered to make the track and so the research began (you can't buy a track in NZ, and importing one would have been too expensive). I eventually settled on some (rather old) plans by Larry Bosworth and construction of a 4 lane track began. I thought I was realistic about how much work this would be, but its fair to say it took a LOT more time than I anticipated. Anyway the track was finished successfully, and I recommend Larry's design - although in hindsight I could have saved quite a bit on hardware by relying more on modern adhesives. I imported 60 sets of wheels and axles from Maximum Velocity and we made the blocks locally.

To manage the race I put together to Excel spreadsheet. From lots of reading online at seemed a heat schedule based on Stan and Cory's Partial Perfect-N was the way to go. I started with a spreadsheet shared online by Bob Baggerman but the problem with Bob's sheet was the pre-generated PPN charts it included only went up to a maximum of 15 cars. I found the online PPN generator, but wasn't confident of having good enough data coverage at the camp to rely on internet access. We were expecting 48 Cubs at the camp, and I wouldn't know the exact number of cars until a few minutes before the race so I needed to be able to generate the heat schedule in the spreadsheet. I read about the PPN.DLL, but every reference to it ended in dead links. I eventually found the DerbyRunner project https://code.google.com/p/derbyrunner/ and from this extracted the PPN generator python script. I considered rewriting this in VBA, but with time getting short, I found an Excel addin that allows you to call a python script from Excel. Using this I modified the spreadsheet to generate the heat schedule at the push of a button based on the number of cars entered in the sheet. Some other enhancements I made to the spreadsheet included buttons to play some mp3 sound effects, use of Windows Text-To-Speech to automatically announce what cars are in which lane for each heat (using Ivona's voices which are very realistic and highly recommended), and a separate "Projector View" sheet that I would put in a different Window and project onto the wall so everyone could see the results as entered and see who was in the next race.

We ran our derby a bit different from the typical approach as we wanted it to be a surprise and have the Cubs actually make the cars at the camp. Since none of the Cubs knew what a Pinewood Derby is, we showed them the Down & Derby movie on the first (Friday) night of camp. Making the cars was scheduled between the Sixes cooking their dinner on the Saturday night, and campfire. We gave them a wedge shaped block and provided rasps, files and sandpaper for some minor shaping of the block, a table with jigs for fixing the wheels, and also had some adults with offcuts of wood and jigsaws to make shapes on request that the Cubs could fix to their car with quick drying glue. We setup the track and allowed them some practice runs before painting their car and leaving it to dry over night. 95% got a basic car made and painted in 90 minutes.

On the Sunday morning, after Cubs Own we had the derby. I was delighted that everything went to plan and the race was very successful. The buzz in the hall during the race was incredible. The spreadsheet worked really well, and the Cubs and leaders liked the automated voice announcements and I think they helped us keep up a reasonable pace (we did 49 heats plus a tie breaker in about 60 minutes). The track start gate worked well. We had no electronic finish gate - just three adults calling which lanes were 1st, 2nd and 3rd which worked pretty smoothly. It helped of course the cars were rather crude - no lube, no alignment and varying weights so the finishes were seldom close. Oh and I made the track 25% longer than the plans which helps separate the cars more.

So of course now we have made the track and caught the PWD "bug" and are keen to hold a regular PWD event. I've already ordered some parts to make a Arduino based track timer which I plan to integrate with the spreadsheet.

One thing I'm curious about is the current "health" of Pinewood Derby in the USA. From all my reading over the last few months, the vast majority of the information online is quite old. The number of new posts on this forum on the last years seems quite low for example. I realize PWD has been around for a long time but the general impression I get is that there is a lot less PWD activity these days than there has been in the past. A lot of links to resources point to sites that don't exist anymore. Is PWD as popular as ever in the US, or has interest in the activity waned somewhat in recent years?

Anyway I'm excited about developing a annual Pinewood Derby event in Christchurch, and judging by the feedback from our Sixer camp I think its going to be very popular.



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Stan Pope
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Re: News from New Zealand

Post by Stan Pope » Sat Sep 20, 2014 9:15 am

Wow! Welcome to Derby Talk!

You were really busy! Congrats working through the mire without getting help. I think that you could have gotten help by asking your questions here on Derby Talk (DT). And thanks for connecting all you have found for us.


Cory kinda faded into oblivion a few years ago. I have lost touch with him.

The few years that I spent with Cory were among the most enjoyable of my life, even though we never met or, even, spoke on the phone. It was a totally internet association. His is a most incredible intellect. By now, his son is almost certainly an adult with children of his own. Not all of us "pineheads" are "lifer's".


I don't think that interest in PWD in the US has faded. Attempting to measure interest by counting posts on DT is probably not a good approach. The presence of DT's search capability and the amount of information contained already in DT's archives would reduce the "new post" count to (1) truly new ideas and (2) questions from those too uninformed (or too lazy) to use the search feature. A better measure would be the sales numbers for PWD kits by BSA. I think that has continued to grow, as has the inclusion of outside materials and tools in the BSA Catalog.


Stan
"If it's not for the boys, it's for the birds!"

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gpraceman
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Re: News from New Zealand

Post by gpraceman » Mon Sep 22, 2014 10:26 am

It is great hearing about PWD racing starting in New Zealand. I am glad that your inaugural race went well.
heatsink wrote:One thing I'm curious about is the current "health" of Pinewood Derby in the USA. From all my reading over the last few months, the vast majority of the information online is quite old. The number of new posts on this forum on the last years seems quite low for example. I realize PWD has been around for a long time but the general impression I get is that there is a lot less PWD activity these days than there has been in the past. A lot of links to resources point to sites that don't exist anymore. Is PWD as popular as ever in the US, or has interest in the activity waned somewhat in recent years?
It can be hard to gauge the popularity of PWD based on online forums and such. Derby Talk has been around for many years (2003) and there have been some great discussions here that are easily accessible with the search feature. That can put a damper on new discussions of the same subject. There are also racing league forums that have started up in the last few years that have drawn away many of the hardcore racers.

10 years ago there were more Pinewood Derby related sites. Many have shut down as their free web hosting services went away or the author's kids had gotten older and no longer do this type of racing, so they lose interest. I'm not quite sure why there haven't been enough new sites to replace those, but there are probably many factors involved in that. Even though my kids are now all grown, I stay involved with this type of racing for local Awana clubs and try to keep Derby Talk and GrandPrix Race Central websites maintained so they remain as good resources to racers and race coordinators.

I do think that Stan is right that to better gauge the popularity of this type of racing you would really need to know the sales figures for BSA, Awana and other groups running this type of race and that is not easy to come by.


Randy Lisano
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Awana Grand Prix and Pinewood Derby racing - Where a child, an adult and a small block of wood combine for a lot of fun and memories.

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FatSebastian
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Re: News from New Zealand

Post by FatSebastian » Tue Sep 23, 2014 11:56 am

:welcome: heatsink! I enjoyed your post.
gpraceman wrote:It can be hard to gauge the popularity of PWD based on online forums and such.
I agree with Stan and gpraceman, having already expressed a similar thought earlier this year.



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Noskills
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Re: News from New Zealand

Post by Noskills » Thu Oct 16, 2014 3:22 pm

What a great story. Next time I am in NZ I will need to pop in am talk some derby talk!
Noskills


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Vitamin K
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Re: News from New Zealand

Post by Vitamin K » Fri Oct 17, 2014 6:55 am

Just read this...that's some seriously involved hackery. The code-nerd in my heart salutes you. :thumbup:



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