By Claire Bunker
“It’s the science behind the speed. That’s what they’ll be working with, though it will feel like play time,” explains Debbie Kray, the Education Manager at LeMay-America’s Car Museum. She enthusiastically discusses gravity and velocity as she climbs the steps of the Pinewood Derby track. Placing her car in one of four slots, she pulls the lever, sending it whizzing down to the bottom. The car’s finish time flashes up on a digital display.
This is Built for Speed, a pinewood derby style track set in the center of the newly-opened Family Zone, a hands-on activities area designed to engage even the youngest car enthusiast. Based on the classic Boy Scout activity, the pinewood cars used in this race are built with six pegs, allowing participants to easily stack them with blocks of various weights as they experiment with how the amount of weight, as well as its placement , affects the car’s speed.
The original Pinewood Derby was the concept of a 1950’s Cubmaster whose own son was too young to participate in Soap Box Derby events, which were popular at that time. Celebrating Tacoma’s own love affair with Soap Box Derby races in the 1930’s through the 1970’s, a display case demonstrates the connection between the two gravity-powered childhood racing adventures.
For a different type of driving experience, kids can climb behind the wheel of a 1920’s Dodge in the Take the Wheel exhibit. Rev the engine by stepping on the gas, or step on the brake to make the rear lights illuminate. Additionally, kids can crank the engine in the front of the vehicle as they prepare to take on the open road.
Who’s never dreamed of driving from coast to coast? That’s the idea behind Go for a Road Trip. This wooden track is set atop an oversized, tabletop map of the United States which includes iconic destinations and cut out “gopher holes” allowing kids to pop out to continue to navigate their car along the journey. “This area will also include a Make and Take station where families can work together on travel-inspired projects to take home with them after their visit,” explained Kray. A display case exhibiting nostalgic items and photos of family road trips from days gone by is designed to inspire visiting families to share treasured memories of their own travels.
While the engineering involved in modern day automobiles is a complicated concept for most of us, the exhibit, Learn How a Car Works, presents the basic systems by color-coding the exposed parts of a chassis, making it a fun and simple exploration.
Family Zone, which opened on December 14, is the latest automotive-inspired experience of LeMay-America’s Car Museum in downtown Tacoma. Opened in June 2012, the spacious Museum with rotating exhibits is designed to be the centerpiece of automotive history as well as an educational center and library. The campus, located adjacent to the Tacoma Dome, also contains a 3.5 acre show field, theater, café, banquet hall and meeting facilities.