The fifth adult pinewood derby race in the past three years took place Wednesday night at Carmody Irish Pub.
Didn’t know there was a derby circuit in Duluth? There is, but don’t take any of it seriously, it’s all for fun.
The derby this week was promoted as part of event founder Anthony Tschann’s 40th birthday party. It was his birthday, but he isn’t 40, he’s a 30-something. Tschann shrugged his shoulders and said 40 just sounded better.
“It’s something fun to do in a boring winter,” Tschann said of the races.
It helps that his entry, the Beer Truck, has won many of the past derbies. Carmody Irish Speedway announcer Chad Lyons talked about Tschann’s truck before it was launched down the track. He won the first year, then another, then another, he told the crowd gathered in the back room of the bar. It may be his birthday, “but we hate him.”
On Wednesday, the Beer Truck was beaten in the first heat by Forbidden Fruit.
With a $5 entry fee for each car, 28 people signed up. You could put the design of the cars into a few categories: artsy but not practical for speed, gruesome, lazy but humorously ironic (an uncarved, unadorned square block of pine with wheels), and classic speed demons.
The art of the car-making is part of the fun, Richard Rosvall said as he checked in contestants.
“What I love about this is that people who don’t consider themselves an artist end up making sculptures,” he said.
The only rule for cars is that they need four wheels, must use the pine for the main structure and must weigh five ounces or less.
There was EsCarGo, with a snail shell attached. It was easily beaten in the first heat and Lyons announced it as “EsCarSlow.” There was the Crystal Cruiser, SourPatch Extreme, Carcophagus and The Bloodmobile.
Rosvall was in Boy Scouts and raced cars in what most people think of as the traditional pinewood derby.
“It’s interesting seeing how many show up with an old scouts car,” he said. “Some are 20 to 30 years old.”
A sheepish Peter Taylor brought his old Boy Scouts car, the 21-year-old Blue Thunder, a one-time trophy winner. It didn’t make it to the finish line.
“Turning 21, he went on a bender last night,” Taylor said of the car’s sluggishness. “Actually, I should have oiled the wheels.”
Tschann is also a former Scouts racer. “It was a horrible experience,” he said. The Carmody races are a balm for that memory, he said.
Ian Koivisto manned the highly technical finish line on the 36-foot track.
“Twenty-five bucks from Radio Shack,” he said of the photo sensors that mark times on the two-lane track after the cars trip sensors at the top, like ski race timing.
It all fed into a computer Koivisto rigged up and provides “scale size” speeds that Lyons read after each heat. Is the track regulation?
“Oh, no,” Koivisto said of the steep pitch and long straightaway. “We wanted it to go fast.”
Owners of the top three cars Wednesday split the entry fee money. There was also voting for Best in Show and Most Offensive car.
Maija Jenson was out to defeat her husband, Reid, who won the last derby with his Mean Green car. He didn’t touch it, keeping it as is for Wednesday. Maija said she spent some intensive time the past week perfecting her U-kar-lele, featuring a miniature instrument on top.
“It’s not rocket science,” she said of getting a car right for winning. “You just pretend you’re 10 years old for a week.”