At Berea Baptist Church in Morada, a room was humming with activity (and the sound of whirring saw blades) on Tuesday evening. The scent of pine and the occasional sharp tang of glue wafted through the air, and children chattered excitedly about their projects.
Every Tuesday evening and Saturday morning, a handful of kids gather for a unique experience: the chance to design, paint and practice racing pinewood derby-style cars.
Some of them are even working on a second racer, after learning what works and what doesn’t from their first.
That was the case for Edmund Davis, an eighth-grader who been at nearly every meeting. He made one car and practiced racing it for a few meetings on the track set up along one edge of the room.
But he wasn’t satisfied.
“I thought, ‘I can probably improve on this,’” he said. So he read the guide organizers brought for the kids to use, then went home and watched some videos on YouTube.
His second effort is much faster, he said — it clocks 3.28 seconds on the 40-foot practice track.
Davis is one of a couple kids who have really come into their own through the project, said John Rice, who co-organized the workshops.
“You see a lightbulb come on, and then they get really involved,” Rice said.
Nearly 70 kids have stopped by — often more than once — to work on pinewood racers. Many are not members of Berea Baptist Church or their sister congregation, Iglesia Bautista La Morada, which shares the building.
“There’s probably more from the neighborhood than there are our church members,” said Roger Stewart, one of the church’s deacons, said when discussing the project a few weeks ago.
They’re more than welcome, Pastor David Garner said Tuesday.
That evening, Deacon John Sinclair was manning the saw, carefully cutting blocks of pine into the shape each child drew out.
On the table a few feet away was a selection of pinewood racers in a variety of shapes and colors. There was also a guidebook kids could look through to figure out their designs.
Finished cars were brought to Rice and Dean Smith, who helped come up with and organize the workshops. If cars were over five ounces, it was back to the saw. If they were under, they’d come back one more time, after painting, so weights could be added.
It’s important for all of the cars to weigh the same so that no one has an edge during the race, Smith said.
“Some have figured out the more aerodynamic they are, the faster they’ll go,” he added.
Sixth-grader Raina Eberhardt is one of them.
Eberhardt’s current car is pretty quick, and she thinks her design is at least partially responsible.
“I just wanted to do a cooler design that was a little more complicated,” she said. She planned carefully, and her car is lightning quick.
She and her brother Eric, in third grade, have been coming to the workshops, but it was Raina who wanted to come first. They both love their new hobby, though.
The kids traded tips for speeding up their racers by the practice track. The camaraderie outweighed the competition — though the winners of the practice races still pumped a fist or cheered with each victory.
On the other side of the room was the painting station, where Jennifer Molina and her sisters were hard at work.
“I think this is the most fun part for them,” mother Lisette Molina said. “I was surprised because I thought they would think it’s a boy thing.”
The three girls — who also have a younger sister and brother, with another sibling on the way — were alternating between showing off their cars and carefully painting, their focus intense.
Molina is the wife of Pastor Carlos Molina, who leads Iglesia Bautista La Morada. She leads the church’s Awana Club, which is like a mini-Vacation Bible School that runs year-round, she said.
The pinewood racer project is just one of several ways that La Morada works with the Berea Baptist congregation, Pastor Carlos Molina said.
He and Garner are planning a health fair in August that will focus on providing free basic medical and dental care for migrants and other needy people, he said.
“We have these vans that are equipped with everything (the doctors and dentists) need,” he said. Now, they need more volunteers with medical experience to help.
He was quickly called away from the discussion to help with car design — though he took a moment to tease Sinclair, whose shark-shaped racer painted in silver glitter paint lost badly to one of the kids’ cars on the practice track.
“Don’t worry, there’s going to be a prize for the best-looking car,” he joked, earning an appreciative chuckle from Sinclair.
The church purchased 100 kits, which each include a pine block, metal axles and plastic wheels, to use this year. They figured they’d give it a try this year, and if there was a lot of interest, they’d do it again.
“We’re thinking this will be the first annual,” Garner said with a chuckle.
Rice just hopes the kids and their family members are having a great time. The children get to learn a little about physics and engineering, have a great time, and maybe a few will be inspired to go into scientific fields, he said.
Davis — who also has a large collection of reptiles and amphibians that includes bearded dragons, snakes, frogs and geckos — could be one who goes into a scientific field, Rice said.
Watching him get so excited about his cars was been rewarding for Rice. Davis’ dad is just as excited by the projects, and the two get to bond over it, Rice added.
“That’s the reason to do this,” he said. “The real beauty of it is I get to see it.”