Connecticut Days: Swept away in go-kart mania

The message was on the answering machine on our return home from Britain after Christmas. It was an invitation, discovered one day after the event, to attend a Tiger Cubs go-kart clinic at the house of a neighbour. We played the tape a few times more, but still we were baffled. A go-kart clinic?

Whatever it was, it sounded ominous. Jonathan, our six-year-old, became a Tiger Cub last autumn on his way to becoming a full Cub Scout later this year. The deal was that this was strictly Daddy's department. This Daddy has since learned that most other Daddies take Cub business fearfully seriously. It is not for mucking about.

But nothing in the Tiger Cubs calendar can be quite so intimidating as the annual Pinewood Derby. Open to Cub Scouts of all ages, it is an evening of desperate competition with fathers and sons racing model cars down a sloping length of wooden track. It sounds fun, but there is a catch. The cars have to be made at home out of seven-inch blocks of very unforgiving wood. Therein is the skill of it all. And the agony.

The clinic; if only we had not missed it. The surgeon-in-chief whose wife had left the phone message had been John and he, I know, is a man whose basement is fairly jammed with things like chisels and, most of all, a vice. Usborne Towers is not so richly appointed. Our workbench was a tea-tray and the chisel a putty knife.

You do, at least, have an official "Pinewood Derby Kit" from which to work. Provided is the block of wood, four nails to serve as axles and four plastic wheels. And there are instructions. The notion that Jonathan was meant to be making this thing on his own was plainly ludicrous. No six-year-old could do this.

The instructions turn out to be a rule-sheet. "Wheel bearings, washers and bushings are prohibited ... The car shall not ride on springs ... Dry graphite is the only lubricant permitted ... no starting devices ... " Most crucial are the dimensions and weight. Wheels must be 1/32 of an inch from the car's body. The vehicle must not weigh more than 5oz.

I decide to team up with William, an English friend. Together we hit the local hardware stores only to be met by giggles and ridicule. We might as well have worn signs that read "Hopeless Fathers About to Let Down Their Sons". My vintage English fret-saw with its crooked blade caused particular uproar. "In this country, sir, saws like that would be disposable." What I needed was a new coping saw, but they had all gone to all the other fathers making cars.

It must be said that when the big night comes, neither of our cars are a disgrace. William's model is almost sleek, although ours boasts a rather special windscreen and steering-wheel arrangement ripped from one of Jonathan's Lego sets. But our cars were mere Trabants next to the Ferrari's produced by most of the other parents. Just how many hours and how many dollars did you people spend, I want to shout out.

The races are in a series of heats with three cars at a time. Some fathers crane intently over the track. One is reprimanded by a Cub master after he is caught red-handed squirting last-minute graphite on his axles.

The brilliance of it all is how the British entrants perform. We are persistent second-placers, which means all humiliation for our sons is avoided, as is any danger of going on to the regional Cub Scout finals. Nor do we suffer the embarrassment of another English father, Andy, who last year was awarded a special prize for a car that had clearly been made by his child alone, so utterly crude was its design and finish. His son, of course, had had nothing to do with it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions