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For local cub scouts, February means "Pinewood Derby" season is here. It's been quite a few years since I wore the blue and gold uniform, but I can still smell the graphite dust. If you've never seen a derby race, you're really missing something special.

I don't know the particulars of how races are conducted today, but when I was young everything started with a small kit. Each scout received a derby car kit containing a simple block of wood several inches in length, 4 plastic tires, 4 nails to use as "axles", and a small sheet of stickers. From this kit, each scout would design a toy-sized car that could free-roll down a wooden track. Scouts would spend weeks working on their design, often with copious amounts of help from their dad, grand dad, or uncle.

I remember passing many a cold January night in dad's workshop learning how to cut, sand, and detail my little block of wood. Dad knew all kinds of tricks to help my car gain more speed in competition. Two of the most common methods involved graphite power and fishing weights (many of you dads out there know exactly what I'm talking about). Since the race tracks were often little more than inclined strips of plywood, a car could gain extra "push" through the use of weights. Dad and I would drill holes into the back of the car and insert fishing weights to "push" the car down the slope of the track and gain acceleration. It was also useful to sprinkle graphite dust on the wheels, to decrease friction and allow the tires to rotate more smoothly. These methods really paid off- we actually took home first place in district competition one year.

But you know, when I look back to those races, it isn't the trophies I remember the most. It was the time I spent with my dad. Dad would always have country music playing on the radio, and we would snack on oatmeal cakes and pepsi (in the can). Dad taught me how to use the bandsaw for the first time- it was the coolest thing I had ever done. We had an old-fashioned gas heater that would glow like a great big pumpkin on those cold January nights.

By the time competitions started in late February, it was usually a little warmer. Now that I think of it, February is one of the most dramatic months of the year for temperature change. After all, at the start of the February, we're only a few days removed from the "coldest" time of the year (climatologically speaking). By the end of February, we have entered our prime severe weather season. Remember, March is the busiest month of the year for tornadoes in North Carolina.

The record high temperature in Wilmington for February is 85 degrees (set in 1962). However, the record low temperature is 5 degrees (set in 1899). Obviously, such a large range of temperatures encompasses a large variety of weather. That's one reason why North Carolina often begins its "Severe Weather Awareness Week" in February. Unfortunately, those stormy days are not far away...


By: Jerry Jackson