Nothing galls me more than hearing that a parent did all of the work in building a racer's car. One of the purposes of a Grand Prix, Pinewood Derby, Kub Kar Rally etc., is the interaction between the child and an adult. The experience of making the car, with an adult that they care about, should be a memory that they look on fondly for years to come, even if they don't win anything.

What the racer can do is dependent on their age, of course, but there are many things that the kids can do, even the youngest of them.  Here's some suggestions:

  • Design - Let them choose the design, it is their car after all.  The adult should first ask them what their goal is.  Do they want to compete more for design or for speed?  Then they can be guided to kinds of designs that will help them towards that goal, but they should have the final say.
  • Car Sanding - Cutting out the car should be left to the adults and the oldest of the kids, but the kids should do most all of the sanding.  Turn the car body over to them with the gouges and big scratches removed.
    • Sanding Tip #1: A good trick I learned from another dad is to use the side of a pencil lead to shade areas on the car that you want the kids to work more on.  Sometimes the kids have a hard time seeing the small scratches, so shading them with pencil helps the kids to see them better and gives them a goal to achieve, to sand off the pencil marks.
    • Sanding Tip #2: Gouges and large scratches can be filled with wood putty.  This is much easier than trying to file or sand them out.  It also covers over mistakes very well!
  • Axle Polishing - The adult can operate the drill while the child uses the emery cloth and polishing cloth to get that mirror finish.
  • Wheel Sanding - Put emery cloth on a sanding block so they have a nice flat surface, and let them sand the tread and inside edge while the adult operates the drill.
  • Lubrication - Let them squirt the graphite in the wheel bore, insert the axle and hand spin the wheel to break it in.  The adult then can put it on the car body and do the alignment.
  • Decoration - Painting can be a big challenge for the younger kids, but they should decide the colors and be allowed to apply the decals.  My opinion is that a perfect paint job is overrated.  Design Judges seem more impressed by creativity and novel designs that they are willing to overlook some of the minor painting flaws.

So, before the adults get carried away in their excitement, try to get them to remember that it is the child's car and they are the helper.  I know that is easier said than done, but you can conduct the workshops so that these items are done by the kids.  Outside of the workshops you can give the parents a flier with these suggestions.  If the parents are really itching to build cars, then you can add a bracket for leaders and other adults to your event.