Adventures in Pinewood Derby Racing

On June 6, 2015, in Family, by Chris Baccus



For many years I would not consider letting the boys join Cub Scouts. The reason was the organization’s stance against allowing gay members from joining, that policy ended in 2013 and our boys joined scouts last year. What I didn’t realize is that there is still in-place today a policy against allowing gay leaders. Hopefully, that policy will change soon.

So while I’m not a fan of the continued discrimination against homosexual leaders, the scouts is an organization that is finally progressing and having families who are pro-gay rights active in scouts will hopefully end such archaic policies, because scouting is a fun time for kids and our boys wanted to join and are having a great time in it the past year.

As we neared the end of our first year in scouts, the marquee event – Pinewood Derby races – was upon us. This was the boys and my first Pinewood derby car builds. It was technically my second time doing it as I was once a Webelo Cub Scout and raced back in the early 1980s. Thirty plus years later here we were with a couple blocks of wood and the Internet.


Today is very different than my experience as a kid. The only kids who ever won were usually kids with a dad in engineering, physics, or a skilled woodworker. My dad wasn’t any of those things and neither was I at 10 years old. So we lost. In fact, it wasn’t too memorable, as I can’t even recall what my car looked like back then.

As a car nut and someone who has a decent garage of woodworking tools and I have even taken some woodworking classes in my past, we had a chance. We also had the power of YouTube, which opened up a lot of suggestions on how best to build a Pinewood Derby car.

The most significant video we found is The Science of the Pinewood Derby. This video was immensely helpful in how we approached our build.

We learned a lot about weight placement, smoothing tips and most significant the wheel configuration showing how to “ride the rails.”

Oscar and Theo looked at some online design templates. Oscar chose one and Theo passed wanting a simple wedge shape. The boys each worked on their cars with me out in the garage where I cut the blocks using a power handsaw and smoothed them out with an electric sander. They each help smooth the axles and sand the wood by hand.


Once the shape was done, we worked on the weights. I drilled 3/8” holes about a inch in front of the rear axle and filed each with tungsten metal weights. Then sealed each hole with wood putty. This gave the cars a clean look and the best weight placement.


The kids chose their paint colors and some transfer decals we found at a local hobby store. If you live near Pasadena, Hobby People is a great place to find what you need. We used spray paint and applied some primer before doing a few coats of the color they chose. Then we made a stripe on each car with the boys selected where and how thick they wanted it.


I finalized the assembly. Our local Pack let everyone do practice runs the Saturday before Sunday’s race. So we went down to do some trial runs. Initially we were getting smoked as the other families saw the same videos we did. I also hadn’t played around with the axles because I wasn’t sure if our track was free of flaws so we could run using the “ride the rails” technique. Watch the video to learn more, but basically you bend the axel nails to get the car to hug a side of the track so you minimize friction.

We finished our initial trial runs and I went back to the garage to tweak the axels. An hour later we went back to the practice and tested significantly faster. I made a few additional adjustments that evening.


Race day was a lot of fun. The competition was fierce. Oscar’s car was tearing it up and coming in first in all but one of his races. Theo’s was mostly placing third and once second. I must of bent Oscar’s axels in a more beneficial way.

In the end, Oscar won second place for his age group. Theo wasn’t too happy with me since he felt I hadn’t made his car as fast as I could.


We learned a lot in our first year. Next year we hope to get two cars to place and who knows maybe Theo will place first as I’m sure he’ll be on me to make his car faster than his brother’s…



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I Played Frogger for an Afternoon and Loved It

On February 3, 2015, in Family, by Chris Baccus


We are gamers.  That’s why we were high-fiving each other all week counting down the days for the Neon Retro Arcade to open last week.  It’s a new arcade that opened in Old Town Pasadena. It’s full of classic arcade games like Mario Bros, Q-bert, Frogger and many more.

You buy unlimited play for $10 a hour.  So for $30 the boys and I went game to game playing tons of video games I hadn’t played in about 30 years and they had never played before. How did a bunch of 8-bit games excite two 8 year olds?  They loved it!  They had a great time playing the classics. Plus how awesome is it not having to worry about running out of quarters?


We can’t wait to come back.  We all had a blast taking a break from our systems at home.  Neon Retro Arcade is soon adding a menu thanks to the restaurant next store. Just note there are no alcoholic drinks due to city code.

If you find the time, take a trip to Neon Retro Arcade and see if you can beat my high score on Frogger, though I’m sure it no longer stands.


28 S Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91105

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Adding Some Activity to Time Outs

On December 12, 2013, in Family, by Chris Baccus


So our latest parental attempt at trying to reduce the battle royal that is brotherhood is to do the Bart Simpson Chalkboard thing.  Write the behavior you will no longer do multiple times. With no chalkboard in our home, a scrap piece of paper works good enough.

It remains to be scene if this is effective; though, there is the bonus on their working on handwriting and spelling. Theo tries to negotiate what is written. Here he tried to get away with just writing “I will not bite.” ten times instead of what I asked him to do. Hence the additional “my brother” after the period. Nice try little dude.

What do you do when punishing a behavior you don’t want to continue from your kids?  Have you tried this?

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Our Mario Kart Family History

On October 25, 2013, in Cars, Family, by Chris Baccus


It all began around age 2.  The boys would play Mario Kart on the Wii with me. I would sit on the couch and they would stand in front of me. Holding the Wii steering wheel they would move the wheel side to side as I controlled the turns holding their elbows while they pressed the accelerator button.

Eventually the boys told me to stop holding their elbows and they proceeded to turn the cars erratically into walls, off cliffs and into water.  The sharp turns soon turned into smooth controlled turns around corners and they stayed on course getting better and better with each gameplay.

Now after five years of playing Mario Kart on Wii and now Wii U and 3DS, the boys wanted to be Mario and Luigi for Halloween. Looking at the store bought costumes they needed something special so I decided to build Mario Karts.

The Karts are rather simple to build.  You’ll need the following materials for 2 karts:

2 small packing boxes
1 large sheet black poster board
1 roll of white duct tape
4 push button battery operated lights
2 sets of suspenders
2 cans of spray paint (1 green, 1 red)
aluminum foil, 4 sheets for headlight cutouts
1 x-acto knife
1 box cutter

Cut each box into two sides curving the front and back to give the car some shape, making sure the front is flat enough to fit the lights. Cut a front/hood top piece and a smaller rear/trunk piece.  Tape the heck of out if on the inside and crease hood and trunk pieces of cardboard so they can fit the shape of the sides.

Spray paint the boxes doing two coats, do an optional primer coat to make it look even better.

Using the white duct tape add racing stripes

Using the white duct tape make the circle letters.  It’s best to place the tape on a removable surface (sticker backing) into the shape of a square and then use the x-acto knife to cut the circular shape and letter outline. Cut out the holes for the headlights and line the edges with aluminum foil. Add the headlights by duct taping them to the inside.

Cut four wheels out of the poster board. Using a small desert plate as a stencil helps.  Attach the wheels with glue (note the photos here don’t have the wheels attached.)

Attach the suspenders and go trick-or-treating!


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Let the Robot War Begin!

On October 28, 2012, in Family, Featured, by Chris Baccus

Our son Theo told us about a year ago that he wants to be a “robot builder” and race car driver, when he is not building robots.  Oscar decided to join in the idea too.

Fortunately, our move to California br0ught us a 10 minute drive to a Rolling Robots store where robot building can happen at age 6.  We signed up a for a Sunday morning robot workshop where Theo made “Robo6” and Oscar made “Robot1.”  The robots took about 2 1/2 hours to build ending in a robot battle where claws were used to try to pullout each others robot wires.

The boys had a great morning building and playing with their robots.We’ll definitely be back.


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Lonely Boy Dance

On December 12, 2011, in Family, by Chris Baccus

I have been a Black Keys fan since Thickfreakness.  I first learned about the band from a Mississippi Blues documentary I caught back in 2002 or 2003 on IFC channel.  Their raw, blues inspired sound was so different than anything else at the time.  Fortunately, I also did some business travel back then and spent a lot of time in vinyl record shops with a co-worker, John.  One trip to Los Angeles was spent at Amoeba Music where I bought this early Black Keys 7″ Leavin’ Trunk” that was #237 of 1000 from a small record label on clear vinyl.

Well The Black Keys have definitely come a long way in nearly 10 years.  Their current release “Lonely Boy” is jammed in my head and I had the boys dance to it tonight.

In normal Oscar & Theo fashion, Oscar followed my suggestion to dance like the guy in the video. Theo dances to whatever beat is in his head.  Anyway, here is the result…at least the last 47 seconds of it I decided to share.

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