Tom Kocal (the big Cub Scout) watches as his son’s vintage car wins his first heat. Savanna Lions Club member Don Nolte (L) sits at the end of the track, monitoring the cars and making sure none of them fly off the end of the track, not a concern with Old Red #34. The Savanna Lions Club and the American Legion were sponsors of the race. (PA photo/Lynnette Forth
By Tom Kocal | Prairie Advocate News
Butterflies. In my stomach. There I was, a businessman for 40 years who has spoken in front of large groups of people many times, and I was nervous being around a bunch of little kids. Why?
It was race day. Saturday, February 8, the Pinewood and Powder Puff Derby was on, hosted by Cub Scout Pack 48 from Savanna at the West Carroll Elementary School Gym.
Cub Scout Pack 51 from Mount Carroll and the West Carroll Girl Scouts were there. Emcee Mike Bates, Pack 48 leader, was having fun with the audience. New Pack 51’s leader is Ric Cass, and the Savanna/Mount Carroll Girl Scouts, led by Amanda Honchell, were enjoying each others company.
When I got the notice about the event a few weeks back, the one thing that immediately grabbed my attention was the “Outlaw Race. Open to all ages. You build it, you RACE it! Anything goes.”
It wasn’t exciting because it was a chance for this old Cub Scout to revert back to his childhood and participate in the thrill of competition. What intrigued me was the fact that I could seek redemption.
In some ways, it was a day I had been waiting for for nearly two decades. Not because I had a negative experience that marred me for life. Nothing at all like that. It was redemption for my son and I.
Twenty or so years ago, my son Mike was a Cub Scout. When it came to the Pinewood Derby, we both looked forward to working together on a race car project. Mike drew the design and choose the paint color. I handled the jigsaw, cut the lead “fins” to the proper size, and carefully placed the nail-axels in place, while Mike measured the exact width.
We even had a few days of serious scientific discussion as to which would be best - added weight in front, or in back? We decided, after a few physical experiments that involved pushing and pulling a loaded wagon, that the weight in the back would have the same affect as pushing the car down the track. We had it legally weighed at the Lanark Post Office scale.
His car ended up being the fastest in the Pack. Back then, they weren’t timed or clocked for speed like the great setup that Pack 48 has. But “Old Red #34” was fast, and won every heat quite handily. Mike’s car was going to Rockford for the Regional Finals.
Old Red also won a couple of heats in Rockford, advancing to the final rounds. We went to lunch, but got back too late, as the race had been bumped up. He - or should I say, WE - never got to see what Old Red could do with the fastest of the fastest. We were bummed out.
Time moves on, and old wounds heal. Then I saw the Outlaw Race. I had to do it, for Mike and me, and for Old Red, of course. The gym was full of over a hundred parents, grandparents and friends, cheering on their favorite scout. There were 74 total entries, a 50-50 raffle, door prizes, and a lunch stand. A fun day for all.
That morning, I grabbed Old Red off my bookshelf in my office, dusted him off a bit so it wouldn’t be over-weight, and headed to Savanna in a snowstorm. I paid my entry fee and placed Old Red with the several other cars in the Open Category, waiting for the Outlaw race.
Watching the first few heats, it was evident that these were some special kids. They were having a blast, win or lose. They were among friends and fellow Scouts, showing off their designs, and putting them to the ultimate test on the track.
Then my name showed up on the screen for the first heat. Butterflies.
Old Red and 3 other younger models headed down the track. I won the first heat at 142.9 mph. But I couldn’t help noticing a little shimmy in the rear end. Could be trouble, especially since the other cars were winning at speeds of 150-156 mph. Maybe Lane 3 was a slower lane, I surmised.
My Day of Redemption just wasn’t meant to be. Fourth place in the other 3 heats was all Old Red could muster. The younger, more high-tech models proved superior.
The Scouts and their parents were awesome. They made me feel like one of them, and for a few hours on Saturday, I was. The sportsmanship on display was tremendous. The loudest round of applause was for Olivia Charles’ Powder Puff entry. One of the slowest cars to race, the crowd exploded with delight when her car made it over the finish line on its own, proving that it is the effort that counts, not necessarily the result.
After the race, John and Bev Lundquist asked how I had done. After hearing my sad story, Bev put it all in perspective. “Well Tom,” she said, “it’s not good to leave any car sit for 20 years without running it.”
Thanks, Bev. I feel better already. Plus, you reminded me that I better get the oil changed in my truck.