Points vs. Times Scoring

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Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by gpraceman » Wed Feb 21, 2007 10:40 am

Here's an article from Pinewood Derby Times, Volume 6, Issue 11 of February 21, 2007 and is reprinted here with permission. I thought it to be a very good summary of the pros and cons of points and times scoring.

======================================

Points or Times: Which Method Should I Use?

Life used to be simple. Only a few TV channels to choose from, no Starbucks to give us multiple coffee options, and pinewood derby winners were decided by elimination. But since humans thrive on innovation, we now have lots of channels and coffee choices, and we have other options for running pinewood races.

I for one am pleased that other options exist for deciding pinewood derby winners. For years we used a double-elimination method. I tried very hard to make the race fair, but I realized that issues existed. Although reasonably simple to implement, elimination methods are fraught with problems, and - unless very carefully implemented - are not very fair (see Volume 3, Issue 7 - "Elimination Methods - Let's Make Some Improvements").

So, when I discovered Points racing, our organization quickly shifted over to that method. At the time, we had a finish line judge, but it was not a timer, so there was no debate as to whether to use Points or Times; Points was the only choice.

Then we replaced the finish line judge with a timer, and integrated the timer with the Grand Prix Race Manager software. By the magic of software, we could now use Points or Times, and - after the race - dynamically switch back and forth to compare the two methods.

I first did this comparison for our 2004 race. We were using Points and each car ran once in each lane. The top finishers then advanced to a finals round (we advanced 10 car). In the finals my son's car ended up taking fourth place. This seemed strange to me, for as I watched the heats I expected him to take third place.

So after the race, I did a little investigation and discovered that, by average heat time, his car was actually the third-fastest car. How did he end up in fourth place? This happened because of the race mix in the finals.

If each car had raced against every car the same number of times, then the heat mix would not matter. But my son's car ended up racing against the two fastest cars more than the third place car. So, he accumulated fewer points than the third place car, thus taking fourth place.

When I made this discovery, my first thought was, "Next year we are going to use Times!" But later, I decided that making a rash decision wasn't the wisest move. So, I did some investigation regarding the two methods, the result of which I will now share with you.

Defining Points Vs. Times
Just to make sure we are all thinking the same thing, let's define Points and Times.

The Points method uses a preset race schedule (we use Perfect-N), wherein each car races the same number of times in each lane, and races against as many other cars as possible. The results of each heat are recorded, with points assigned based on the finish order. Points can be assigned as 4, 3, 2, 1 for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th places (high points wins), or 1, 2, 3, and 4 points for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th places (low points wins). The points are then totaled and the winners decided.

The Times method uses a preset race schedule, wherein each car races the same number of times in each lane. Generally, the cars race against as many other cars as possible, but the heat mix does not affect the outcome. The heat times are accumulated, and then trophies are awarded based on the lowest cumulative time, or lowest average time.

Points - Advantages/Disadvantages
Let's first look at the advantages and disadvantages of the Points method.

Advantages
  • Does not require a timer.
  • The audience can 'validate' the heat results by seeing that the finish order on the scoreboard matches what they witnessed. This leads to higher audience confidence.
  • The eventual winner of the race is not obvious, and cannot be decided until the heats are completed (with Times, the audience can oftentimes pick out the fastest car by watching the timer results). This leads to more excitement and anticipation at the race.
  • Heat placement is meaningful. A car must place well in the heats in order to place well overall (with Times, heat placement is largely irrelevant).
  • A poor heat only slightly penalizes a car (with Times, a slow heat oftentimes eliminates the car from any chance of winning).
  • If the operator running the start gate causes a slow heat (which can happen with the older style gates), the results are still valid as the heat time is irrelevant. With Times, the heat would need to be rerun (if the problem was detected).
Disadvantages
  • More heats are required. With Times, only 1 heat per lane is required to determine the trophy winners. With Points, depending on the number of cars, an additional round (or more) will likely be needed to accurately give out the trophies.
  • Heat mix affects the results. As described earlier, if scheduled to race against predominantly faster cars, a given car will be penalized.
Times - Advantages/Disadvantages
Now, let's look at the advantages and disadvantages of the Times method.

Advantages
  • Fewer heats are required - only 1 heat per lane.
  • Heat mix does not affect the results.
Disadvantages
  • Requires a timer.
  • The audience cannot 'validate' the heat results. The timer must be trusted to accurately capture each heat.
  • The final winner can sometimes be determined by the audience by simply watching the timer results.
  • The finish order within a given heat (or set of heats) is largely irrelevant. For example, if a car is scheduled to race against slower cars, that car can win every heat, and still not win a trophy. (How do you explain to a child that although their car never lost, they didn't win?)
  • A poor heat significantly penalizes a car. To rectify this, the slowest heat can be eliminated before cumulating or averaging the heats.
  • On some tracks operator error can significantly affect times. A fool-proof starting gate is a must for this method of scoring.
Conclusion
After this analysis, I decided to stick with the Points method for our local race. I believe this method has fewer problems and is more easily understood and accepted by the participants and their parents.

However, I concede that the Times method has a place. If your race involves a large number of cars, then the Times method can greatly increase the speed of the event. Large events such as district or regional championship commonly use a Times method for scoring the race. But if you choose to use a Times method, make sure that the method is clearly explained to the participants.


Randy Lisano
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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by gpraceman » Wed Feb 21, 2007 10:49 am

I do think one disadvantage of points scoring that was left off was the much higher potential for ties when compared with times scoring. To reduce the chances for ties in the first place, more racing needs to be done for all the cars competing. Maybe that was the intention of the "More heats are required" disadvantage.

On this points advantage:
A poor heat only slightly penalizes a car (with Times, a slow heat oftentimes eliminates the car from any chance of winning).
I would clarify the note on times to be "with Times, a slow heat oftentimes eliminates the car from any chance of winning, unless the worst time is thrown out". This was noted later on in the times disadvantages section.

While he addressed the start gate issues in the times disadvantages section, there is also a potential of timing inaccuracies in how a given timing system determines the finish of each car (due to light/glare issues, bent sensor flags, misaligned finish detectors, etc.). These inaccuracies can also lead to an inaccurate finish order and affect even points scoring.

IMO, if you are not fully confident in the consistency of your start gate and the accuracy of the finish times, then go with points scoring.


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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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by Stan Pope » Wed Feb 21, 2007 12:49 pm

In an email, I said to Randy [Davis]:

Excellent "Points or Times" article.

You said, "I first did this comparison for our 2004 race. We were using Points and each car ran once in each lane. The top finishers then advanced to a finals round (we advanced 10 car). In the finals my son's car ended up taking fourth place. This seemed strange to me, for as I watched the heats I expected him to take third place."

Cory Young and I have often abreviated the Perfect-N chart variations as CPN, PN and PPN. The details are in the "About the Charts" section of http://members.aol.com/standcmr/ppngen.html.

Your case demonstrates the problem inherent in the selection of finalists. PN and CPN charts are relatively rare; PPN are almost common. PN has both lane equality and opponent equality. PPN by definition narrowly misses full opponent equality.

In selecting finalists, the number of finalists is important so that the more accurate PN or CPN charts can be used! 10 finalists requires either an exhorbitant number of rounds or at least a 9-lane track (fit that one in your budget!) to run a PN chart. So, I recommend either a 7-car or a 13-car finals chart since these have PN and CPN solutions on 3 and 4 lane tracks. (A single "bye" in either of these does not affect the results, so those charts are applicable to car counts of 6, 7, 12, or 13.)

The nature of PPN charts limits how accurately PPN can rank the top cars. But PPN is excellent at ranking the N best cars among the highest scoring 2*N places. So, the number of finalists needs to be about twice the number of places that need to be determined.

The results above were reached by running a few millenia of PWD races on a simulation program written by Cory Young. See the Chart Simulator at http://members.cox.net/pinehead/software.html.

Points racing has another problem that occurs when the cars are more equal than the lanes. If heat results are "true to form", PN and CPN charts will usually produce ties in the final standings for these cars. Unless you can find two lanes on the track that are more equal than the cars, the tie might have to be left to stand or be broken with a coin toss.


Stan
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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by BigDozer66 » Wed Feb 21, 2007 9:17 pm

Now I am even more confused! :wall:

I will have to get it figured out in the next month or I will not have any hair left! :lol:

Lynn


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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by Stan Pope » Wed Feb 21, 2007 9:37 pm

BigDozer66 wrote:Now I am even more confused! :wall:

I will have to get it figured out in the next month or I will not have any hair left! :lol:

Lynn
I will help, Lynn. Tell me what part(s) of it is (are) puzzling you.

Meanwhile, remember that God only made so many perfect heads. On the rest, he put hair!


Stan
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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by BigDozer66 » Wed Feb 21, 2007 9:59 pm

Stan Pope wrote:
BigDozer66 wrote:Now I am even more confused! :wall:

I will have to get it figured out in the next month or I will not have any hair left! :lol:

Lynn
I will help, Lynn. Tell me what part(s) of it is (are) puzzling you.

Meanwhile, remember that God only made so many perfect heads. On the rest, he put hair!
Stan,
Let me get everything in and I will give you a shout. :)

I was thinking the "Time" racing would be the best but now I see that the "Points" might be a better way?

Lynn


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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by SuperDave » Sat Feb 24, 2007 8:19 pm

What is the purpose of the Pinewood Derby? If all you want is to have a fair race and find a winner then I think I agree with much of the previous discussion. BUT, in my opinion, having a fair race and finding a winner are limited ADULT ideas that are left over (and mostly unspoken) from BC (before computers). I think we can do much better.

If you start thinking like an 8 year old, instead of an adult and if you agree with me that, "The purpose of the Pinewood Derby is to provide a positive experience for the organization, the parents and the child (with the emphasis on the child).", then Time wins over Points any day. Especially when you use points to 'advance the top 10' or some such. Advancing some means NOT advancing others, finding A winner means finding LOTS of losers.

If you read carefully almost all the time objections noted in the previous posts are from adults or from an adult perspective, the kids just want to race hopefully many times and without realizing it, they want to not be shamed in front of their peers.

Time, especially time when in subsequent heats the cars are speed matched, allows even very slow kids to win heats. As an email I received just last week said, "I love the look on a child's face when after coming in last in the first heat by a yard he almost wins in the latter heats." From personal experience I can tell you that when that slow kid wins his fist punches the air every bit as fast if not faster than the fastest racer's fist. Winning a heat or being a close second, even against speed matched cars beats the heck out of losing by a mile four times in a row!

Another MAJOR and unmentioned benefit of time (especially if you agree with our 'purpose' statement) is that it trivially produces LOTS of winners from the same race data with no runoffs. Simple sorting produces the winners overall, the winners in each sub-group (Dens, Ranks, etc.), even the fastest sub-group (think fastest Den). Having a trophy for the fastest Den reinforces teamwork, incentivizes the dad who wants to win the trophy to help the kid who doesn't have a dad or whose dad is in Iraq, keeps the kids interest not only when his car is on the track but when his teammate's cars are AND, if you have 5 dens, 20% of the kids go home in first place. Not so easy with points.

Time can have the disadvantage noted that winning a heat (from an adult perspective) has no meaning. Kids can easily understand this if before racing begins they (and their parents) are told that the fastest time wins so that they can win a heat but another heat winner might be faster. Additionally, at the end of each period announcing the current top 10 further reduces false expectations.

Time does require a precision gate, not one opened by a human, but that's no big deal. It also requires a precision timer, a topic discussed ad nauseum elsewhere by this writer among others. The cost differences from order of finish to precision timing are not that great especially when compared to the cost of the track and when amortized over the life of the system which is often decades.


(Note: the author is a designer and vendor of tracks, timers and software. Comments by him or to him should take that into account as appropriate.)

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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by Cory » Sat Feb 24, 2007 8:59 pm

SuperDave wrote:Time, especially time when in subsequent heats the cars are speed matched, allows even very slow kids to win heats. As an email I received just last week said, "I love the look on a child's face when after coming in last in the first heat by a yard he almost wins in the latter heats." From personal experience I can tell you that when that slow kid wins his fist punches the air every bit as fast if not faster than the fastest racer's fist. Winning a heat or being a close second, even against speed matched cars beats the heck out of losing by a mile four times in a row!
Dave, I think this is good point, but I also think that it bears closer examination, especially for groups that do lots of racing.

In your experience, how long does it take for a fast racer to bubble to the top, or a slow racer to trickle to the bottom? There are many groups that do quite a bit of racing (e.g. up to 10 to 20 races per car) and my instinct is that this would result in the same cars racing each other again and again after the first so many rounds. For groups such as these, using a PPN type schedule might be preferable, as it would allow for both slow car success and continuous opposition diversity.

In another thread on a scheduling system that sounded similar to yours, Stan noted that for most of the cars their opponents and their success seemed to oscillate after a certain number of heats. The fastest one or two cars would advance to the top group and stay there. The next tier would bounce back back and forth between the 1st and 2nd groups, losing one race, winning the next. And so on down the line. Except for the the fastest cars and the slowest cars, all cars would win (get promoted) and lose (get demoted) about the same amount.

Since we're looking at things from the point of view of the kids, I'm thinking that if I were a kid who worked really hard to build the 3rd fastest car in the whole pack, I don't deserve to lose half my races. I'm not sure that knowing I raced against the fastest cars most of the time would make me happier. In fact, it might do exactly the opposite.

Just my $0.02....



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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by SlartyBartFast » Mon Feb 26, 2007 10:39 am

SuperDave wrote:Advancing some means NOT advancing others, finding A winner means finding LOTS of losers.
So? At what point do we stop coddling the children? They will see the older groups competing to win and already compete in team and individual sports and are unlikely to be unexposed to the concept of winning and losing in competition.
At what point do we teach children to lose graciously and to have fun participating in the competition. What value is given to those that truly excel in the event when their achievement is leveled-off and minimised in order to protect the feelings of others?
Don’t know what the psychologist's take on it is, but IMO the longer someone is isolated from “losing” or “failing” the more they think they are entitled to win and the more difficult the lesson becomes.
In other threads, people lament the entitlement, win-at-all-costs, and other negative things associated with those that buy eBay cars or otherwise try and cheat. But isn’t promoting the false idea that everyone should win (or at least that no one should lose) not just leading up to the same line of thinking that you need to win at all costs?
SuperDave wrote:Having a trophy for the fastest Den reinforces teamwork,
Does it? Name one criteria of team work that is fulfilled by each member working alone and independently until grouped together on race day.
It's no more a promotion of teamwork than chearing on the local NBA, NFL, or NHL team or cheering on your favorite race team in NASCAR.
I see problems in teaching children to falsely increase their self-worth by the performance of others. Aren’t there enough influences in society that falsely link people to the performance of others?
Another problem I see is the opposite reaction. What of a den with a top car or two that is dragged down by dismal performance from the others? Or a den which misses out just because of the performance of one? Don’t you risk the makers of the slow cars being blamed? You’ve elevated their losses from something personal to a failure to the “team”.
Besides, individual competition and performance is as important to promote as teamwork. Why debase both by trying to make a teamwork exercise out of something that is individual in nature?
Cory wrote:Since we're looking at things from the point of view of the kids, I'm thinking that if I were a kid who worked really hard to build the 3rd fastest car in the whole pack, I don't deserve to lose half my races.
Do kids really think in terms of “deserving” to win or lose? And didn’t many of the kids who built much slower cars work just as hard?
After striving to protect the children from the hurt of losing, how do you prepare them for truly traumatic experiences in competition. Consider the number of athletes who have prepared 7 days a week for YEARS to then not even finish their competition at the olympics dues to a minute stumble? Yet in PWD the possible millisecond difference between tracks is seen as an unfair horrendous evil to be overcome.
I think that whether a race day is enjoyed by the children or not has less to do with how much the organisers and adults obsess over what method or scoring is “fairest” and far more to do with the guidance, attitudes, and atmosphere leading up to race day and during the event.
Regardless of how the race is organised, how the winners are determined, or how many prizes are given out, someone will undoubtedly find fault. Turn to any sports-talk radio station for definitive proof.fans can argue endlessly about how rules are unfair, how their team “deserved” to win, or how some foible of the officiating or equipment robbed “them” of the win. In my observation, it is more likely the adults than the kids who are likely to be thinking in such a manner.
I apologise if this comes of as a rant, but no offense was meant. I really think that some thought and discussion really has to be put into what the various organisations that run these rallies are trying to teach the participants.



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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by Cory » Mon Feb 26, 2007 12:32 pm

SlartyBartFast wrote:Do kids really think in terms of “deserving” to win or lose?
I coached youth soccer for nine years. I ran Pinewood Derbies for nine years. Yes, I know many that do.
SlartyBartFast wrote:And didn’t many of the kids who built much slower cars work just as hard?
I am not into coddling kids either. Life rewards performance, and not necessarily effort.



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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by SlartyBartFast » Mon Feb 26, 2007 12:38 pm

Cory wrote:
SlartyBartFast wrote:Do kids really think in terms of “deserving” to win or lose?
I coached youth soccer for nine years. I know many that do.
Hmm. My bad. Didn't express my thoughts correctly.

I meant in the context of third place supposedly losing half their races and not deserving to.

Kids (young and old) believe they deserve to win all the time. :roll:



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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by Cory » Mon Feb 26, 2007 12:50 pm

SlartyBartFast wrote:Kids (young and old) believe they deserve to win all the time. :roll:
Not all kids, but granted this is true for many kids. Like when my 10th best player would ask me if she was going to make All-stars.

In general, though, my experience is that kids can be taught to understand when the other side is just better than they are, or when there is that special player on the other team...especially once they get into Bear/Webelos age. And even at younger ages, there are many "math-brained" kids who will assemble all the data in their heads and question the results.

It's the parents who are hard to teach, esp. in sports like soccer where ability is subjective. At least as much as the kids, they tend to wear rose-colored glasses.



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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by rdeis » Mon Mar 12, 2007 12:54 pm

SlartyBartFast wrote: At what point do we teach children to lose graciously and to have fun participating in the competition. What value is given to those that truly excel in the event when their achievement is leveled-off and minimised in order to protect the feelings of others?
True. You can't teach one to lose graciously unless the loss brings with it pain that they need to deal with.

Likewise, you can't teach one to win graciously unless the win brings pride that must be dealt with.
SuperDave wrote:Having a trophy for the fastest Den reinforces teamwork,
Does it? Name one criteria of team work that is fulfilled by each member working alone and independently until grouped together on race day.
True- but you're assuming all the work is independent. IME it is much better if the work is NOT independent, and I push our scouts and dens to get together and swap secrets, meet as a den for workshops, and that sort of thing.

On of the easiest places for a race to appear "unfair" is when one kid has access to a book, secret, or (worst) tool that the others don't. With a team award, parents and scouts both have incentives to share these exclusive advantages. I'm going so far as to suggest that our pack hold a special tune-up event for our district team where the kids can help each other make adjustments to their already very fast cars to help the whole team excel at the district level.
Another problem I see is the opposite reaction. What of a den with a top car or two that is dragged down by dismal performance from the others? Or a den which misses out just because of the performance of one? Don’t you risk the makers of the slow cars being blamed?
Sure you do-- but peer pressure isn't always a force of evil, and you can steer the pressure a bit by challenging the fast kids on the amount of help they gave the slow kids.

You can also mitigate that by adding other components in to the team trophy-- I've seen Spirit, Sportsmanship, and Participation all used to that effect. Spirit, especially, is a very contageous thing among a team of kids on race day, to the point where it can easily dominate many speed results.

In any case, the Den Leaders really need to push the "team" aspect to make it work, otherwise the whole thing is individual effort with no team component- just as you originally said.
I think that whether a race day is enjoyed by the children or not has less to do with how much the organisers and adults obsess over what method or scoring is “fairest” and far more to do with the guidance, attitudes, and atmosphere leading up to race day and during the event.
No arguement there. The methods, workshops, and etcs are all just a bare framework that has to be filled in by the attitude of the leadership and the parents before it's of any use.

But I can say that having a framework that the adults find to be "fair" makes it easier to get adult buy-in and build the positive attitudes that you really need to make it all work.



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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by rjbur » Wed Sep 05, 2007 12:16 am

Points vs. Times...

Without a single dought... I would choose the Timer...

As stated, you MUST explain how the race will be run...

I had two boys go through the program and have run the Pinewood Derby races for many years at our Pack.

I make sure that it is clear to ALL present that what matters in this race will be your cars total race time from each heat and NOT if it placed 1st or 4th in any one race. I further explain that in this way you are effectively racing against all other members in the Pack even if they are not in any of the heats you are in.

We check-in the cars on Friday night at the Pack Meeting and then race on Saturday. We run the race by RANKS, run all the rank heats, re-explain the time total aspect of the race and then award 1st, 2nd, & 3rd at the "Rank" level and then advance these racers to the Pack Grand Finals, reset the timer totals (ok software does this for us) and explain that the way the race is run again and that these racers are starting with a clean slate.

We had approx. 60 racers that each raced twice per lane... they had a blast and I don't think there was a single one that was keeping count in their heads of how many points / place they came in. If anything, it was nice to know that it may not really count for much that you came in 4th in one race, yea you may not be getting 1st place, but heck your still in the running... after all, I'm racing agains everyone else...

We could have called it after running twice in all lanes and picked not only the 1st->3rd at each Rank Level, but also awarded the Pack Level awards, but it was about the boys having as much race time / fun as possible, so we run the Pack Grand Finals with the top 3 from each rank re-racing against each other....

I am no longer with the pack as both boys have now bridged in to Boy Scouts, but the website I was taking care of seems to still be there... Take a look and grab what you can use... It shows all that we use and then some...

In summary... it really does matter who you race when using points. You can really cut down the number of races a boy participates in if he is unfortunate to be heated with the fastest in the pack and not cars that are closer in speed to his own... With a timer system, it's you against the track and everyone else in the race, you run an equal amount of races in each lane as every one else and your total time is what counts, not the unfortunate placement of your car in a heat with a faster car than the next person gets to race against...

http://sccc-pack374.org/sccc-pack374/pinewood/

Mr. B
Ex-Den Leader & Webelos Leader & Webmaster, & Pinewood Derby Commissioner for Pack 374
Pioneer District, Santa Clara County Council
San Jose, CA

PS: I have never had a "parent" or racer walk up and challenge the results, never question... "Why, if I placed 2nd in most my races did I not win 2nd or 3rd..." I believe it is because I make sure it is explained, reminded, and made sure it's understood, that your placement in a race does not count, it's your total time...



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Re: Points vs. Times Scoring

Post by Stan Pope » Wed Sep 05, 2007 9:07 am

rjbur wrote:You can really cut down the number of races a boy participates in if he is unfortunate to be heated with the fastest in the pack and not cars that are closer in speed to his own...
Please explain! This sounds like a comparison with "elimination method". Aren't we comparing timed vs points in this topic?

The Pack's "Rules Procedures and More" document has a lot of content that is "very familiar" to me in that a lot of wording is drawn from the Wotamalo rules. (That's good!) The pack rules seem to be oriented more toward "points" or "elimination" racing than to "timed" racing, especially in the area of finish line judging and cars leaving lane/track. Perhaps a "Revision 6" is in order.

I was disappointed to read that your boys do not stage their own cars at the starting line. That's too bad.

I think that it is important to note that the pack's equipment is probably sufficient for accurate timing of runs. Without the "spring open" gate, your decision to use times would be less tenable. I did not find any notes regarding how you prove the correct operation of the equipment.


Stan
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