February 20, 2012
Racers test their metal
Cortlandville auto shop holds valve cover races
CORTLANDVILLE — Any former Boy Scout can tell you about the pinewood derby races. Valve cover racing is the adult version, popular at car shows around the country.
On Saturday afternoon, about 30 people came to Keith’s Auto Repair Shop to watch 16 cars race down a homemade track.
Instead of a car carved from wood, the race cars are valve covers from car engines. They look like the covers to butter dishes.
Keith Standish, owner of the shop on Route 11, said he put together the event to give local mechanics and race car fans something fun to do.
“I got a flyer in the mail advertising a car show in Pennsylvania and it had valve racing on it,” he said. “So I thought it would be a nice thing to do, I got my employees and some of my buddies in it.”
Standish, who is also the vice-president of the Seven Valley Street Rod Club, said he plans on making the races part of future club events.
“I brought it up at our meeting last month and we’ll probably have a race during some of our events this summer,” he said. “I’d like to charge a small entry fee so the winner gets something and the rest can go to charity.”
The rules in valve car racing are just as strict as those in pinewood derbies, cars must be a specific size and weight, no more than 30 inches long, 10 inches wide, 10 inches high and weigh no more than 10 pounds.
Racers are not allowed to interfere with another racer’s car and all judges’ decisions are final. Also, the only thing that carries the cars down the track is gravity, no engines or propulsion systems are allowed. The track itself is 28-feet long and the starting line is about 5 feet above the ground.
The double-elimination tournament featured a wide variety of cars. Most of the 16 cars entered in the race used Rollerblade wheels. Many featured custom paint jobs and add-ons.
One racer turned his valve cover into a tow truck, which came in handy when his opponents crashed into the side rails.
Standish served as referee and official starter. After the national anthem played, the racers placed their cars on the track, propping the front wheels up against the starting gate. Standish pulled a lever that pulled a bar beneath the track and the cars flew down the track.
A relay switch made it easy to tell who won each race. As the cars hit the finish line, their wheels knocked over a metal flap, which triggered a light switch for the winner.
A loose group of mechanics and racers wandered around the shop, eating, drinking, cheering and occasionally laughing when one of their friends’ cars crashed. Some took pictures of other cars, others checked the wheels and did test runs down the track.
Tammie Duff was the lone woman to enter a car in the race. She entered a bright pink valve cover, shaped to look like a Cadillac sedan, to remember and honor friends and family members who have battled cancer, she said.
“It’s just something I could do to recognize them,” she said.
Cliff Hall, a mechanic in Standish’s shop, said the race was a fun event that brought back childhood memories for many of the racers.
“When he told us about it, we were all real excited,” he said. “It’s just like the pinewood derby races.”
After two hours of whizzing down the track, an occasional crash or two, Dave Edwards, the service manager at Keith’s was named the champion. The first-place trophy was a gold painted camshaft mounted on a wooden platform. Edwards also won two tickets to a Syracuse Crunch hockey game and a $25 gift card to Advance Auto Parts.
Mike Edwards won the award for the most creative entry by turning his valve cover in to a used car lot. He glued a piece of wood on the top of his car and then placed over a dozen Matchbox cars on it. That design came back to haunt him as the wooden platform flew off his car on nearly every run.
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