First things first. A bit of clarification. The Rock Candy 500, running from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at the River Market Pavilion, is a pinewood derby, not a soapbox derby. We're talking small, handcrafted cars. Not something you sit in and steer. We considered the latter early in a brainstorming session, but visions of broken bones and lawsuits led us to the former. They're cousins, of course. A Cub Scout master in California conceived the first pinewood derby in 1953 to give his son, who was too young to compete in the soapbox derby, a project the two could bond over.
Here's the gist, for those who aren't dads or never went through Cub Scouts: Contestants begin — weeks, days, maybe even hours — before the race with a 7-inch-long rectangular block of pine wood, which they shape, using whatever tool works, into the body of a model car. Then they decorate, with paint or stickers or glitter or anything else, attach nails for axles and plastic wheels on the axles, and there you go. On race night, gravity will guide the cars down a declining 40-foot-long four-lane track.
If you haven't started crafting your car, it's probably too late unless you immediately feign illness and go home to your workshop. But the spectacle should be worthwhile on its own. We'll be racing continuously. There'll be thematic and generally good music. And we'll be selling beer for cheap. Most importantly, all proceeds go to benefit Boy Scout Troop No. 5, made up of kids from Easter Seals Arkansas. The troop plans to use the proceeds to help buy uniforms.
With an assist from our resident woodworking master, Robert Roling of Kustoms Royale in Little Rock (and Go Fast) is generously donating some seriously badass trophies, affixed with various car parts and decorated with old-school custom lettering and detailing. Prizes will be awarded for speed, paint, design, best kid's entry (under 14) and best of show. Times employees are eligible to enter, but may not win any prize other than speed. Too bad, my rolling whale is looking pretty fresh.
We've culled experts from the staff to help judge the subjective categories. Alan Leveritt, the paper's publisher, drives a convertible, so he's clearly qualified. Leslie Peacock, who writes our Art Notes column, has the discerning eye necessary to distinguish between a slapped-on paint job and one truly transcendent. And Erica Schaffer, who designs the paper each week, says she was born to grade pinewood derby cars.
Grease up your wheels. Pull out the checkered flag (seriously, we need a checkered flag). Grab the kids. Bring your friends. It's gonna be a big time.