Race Question

Discussions on race planning, preparations and how to run a "fair" and fun race.
Post Reply
DMWOOD
Pine Head
Pine Head
Posts: 60
Joined: Thu Jan 22, 2004 11:05 am
Location: Ionia, MI

Race Question

Post by DMWOOD » Thu Jan 29, 2004 10:23 pm

Since I found a place where all the PWD Ledgends visit from time to time, I need your thoughts and opinions.

I took over as Cubmaster for our Pack last fall and I am in charge of our Pinewood Derby this year. Let me tell you what equipment we have and how the race was run last year and then give me any ideas you may have to improve the race this year.

Our track is a three lane made from 3/4" plywood with a plastic laminate cover and solid aluminum center guides. It is made in (5) 8'-0" sections that are very heavily built and the joints all fit good. It is also stored inside the house to help eliminate any problems from the changes in weather. It has an electrically controlled start gate that drops vertically and a Fast Track Model P3 timer. We have it hooked up to a computer and use Derby Assistant Software to schedule and run the races. I believe this software uses the Sterns Method to schedule the races and uses points to determine the winners. It also captures the times for each race but does not use it. Based on the info I saw from last years race there did not seem to be any lane on the track that gave an advantage.

Because we do not have very many kids, we run a lot of heats. Last year we had 19 boys and ran 15 heats. This year we have 15 boys and will run at least 15 or more heats this year. We have awards for the top three in each group (Tiger, Wolf, Bear & Webelos) and the top three for the pack.

Is there anything I should change or do different to make sure that the race is as fair as possible?

Thanks for your help.



User avatar
Stan Pope
Pine Head Legend
Pine Head Legend
Posts: 6888
Joined: Sat Jul 05, 2003 7:01 pm
Location: Morton, Illinois
Contact:

Re: Race Question

Post by Stan Pope » Thu Jan 29, 2004 10:51 pm

I presume that you are racing more that 15 heats total... perhaps 15 heats per scout? 15 heats total seems way low for the boys to give there cars a proper run! You should be able to run 30 to 60 heats per hour on that track if the boys stage their own cars (as they should).

First I'd suggest that you get very familiar with the details of operation, including some "dry runs" ahead of time.

Second, I'd suggest that you export the heat / racer / lane assignments to a file and feed the file into a chart checker such as Cory provides at http://pack146.nova.org/pinewood/software.html If you are running Stearns charts be aware that Stearns is often careless with lane and opponent equity. A chart checker will show such behavior.


Stan
"If it's not for the boys, it's for the birds!"

DMWOOD
Pine Head
Pine Head
Posts: 60
Joined: Thu Jan 22, 2004 11:05 am
Location: Ionia, MI

Re: Race Question

Post by DMWOOD » Fri Jan 30, 2004 7:41 am

Stan:

Yes, each scout will run 15 races or more. This software has an option that lets you look at lane equality and opponent equality in the races.

I have done some test races with this equipment in order to learn how to use it. When I looked at the lane equality and opponent equality there was not an even spread for all cars. I am not so concerned with lane assignments for our track but I am concerned with the opponent equality.
I need to work with this software some more to see if I can make changes to the race schedule prior to running the race.

Do you have any suggestions on how to schedule races with equality without spending a lot of money on new software?

Thanks for your help.



User avatar
Stan Pope
Pine Head Legend
Pine Head Legend
Posts: 6888
Joined: Sat Jul 05, 2003 7:01 pm
Location: Morton, Illinois
Contact:

Re: Race Question

Post by Stan Pope » Fri Jan 30, 2004 8:59 am

Total lane equity and total opponent equity are not always possible. I think that this page http://members.aol.com/standcmr/pwmevalc.html entitled A "Really Better" Way to Run a Pinewood Derby ... see "Cases 4 & 5" should give you some ideas. It shows how to use a more-or-less balanced chart as a preliminary to select a group of finalists which contains those deserving of the trophy, and then use a precision chart to race off for the trophies.


Stan
"If it's not for the boys, it's for the birds!"

User avatar
Den_Leader
Master Pine Head
Master Pine Head
Posts: 102
Joined: Fri Jan 02, 2004 11:09 am
Location: Eastern Ohio

Re: Race Question

Post by Den_Leader » Sun Feb 15, 2004 9:07 pm

At the risk of being a whining father.......

I would appreciate any recommendations on conducting an event with 180-260 entrants.

Yesterday, my son competed at our district event that is open to any scout in the district. It is referred to as a 'triple elimination' event. What happens is that 6 cars are placed on the track and run a heat. The remaining 5 cars re-stage on the same lanes and run again. The remaining 4 cars re-stage, run again, and the last 3 cars go home. The process is continued until all scouts have raced in the first round, thereby eliminating half of the competitors. The remaining boys are all on equal ground and a random draw is conducted for the next round to be conducted similarly with 3 runs, except for only 5 boys per sub-set instead of 6, thus eliminating 2 boys rather than 3.

The event is held at the center court of our local shopping mall. The mall floor is waaaaay out of level as anyone who has seen it is aware of. (Built on a landfill in the 70's and problematic ever since) No shims were used. First heat at 9:00 am, with a heat scheduled every 6 minutes. Logan had an 11:00 start time and was required to be in the pit by 10:45. He raced his first heat at 11:48. The last heat of the first round went off at 12:48. It was time for lunch, so the second round began at 1:56, after allowing 12 late entries to finish 6 more races.

I saw a red car win a race by about 3 car lengths during a heat of 4 (the go-home run). The electronic finish line display had not been re-set however, and the cars were told to re-stage. When they ran again the red car lost by 4-5 car lengths and was on the way home. What is up with that? Can staging accuracy by the two racers account for this change? I saw wild swings in position for the same cars on the same lanes from one heat to the next all day and the night before in the open races with adults staging the cars.

BTW, I broke my own rail car, super-glued it, and was out after 3 runs by my own hand. :oops: Oh and that was brutal…my car was a good 8-9 feet behind the others. Out of 52 entries, two didn’t reach the finish line (in an adult competition), those were the only two cars I could have beat. :lol:

A boy in my den had his wheels failed at the inspection table for having the hubs 'too rounded', even though every other boy in my den got by that table, and they had prepared the wheels with the same tools, techniques, guidance, and inspection by me. He also had to cut the glue from his slots (so they could see his nails), and replaced his wheels with out-of-the-box versions. That boy went home after 3 runs down the track. :( The rule was ambiguous, and when questioned about it, the derby chairman told me to ‘be discrete’ about coning the hubs at a meeting last month.

My son easily cruised to the round with 9 racers left competing for 6 pieces of hardware, he drew the lane which had way less wins than the next slowest one. I'm not guessing, an official charted this while the races went on, but that lane was not removed from the competition, even with the obvious flaw. He staged his car as usual, but his car got 'hammered' by a competitor and he was not allowed to re-stage. BTW it looked very intentional and left me really shaking my head when I saw the kid laughing. :x Logan finished that run 5th. He lost the next run of 4 by <1" to a competitor he had beat in another round and finished 2nd. He lost the round of 3 by a visually undetectable distance, and was out. :cry:

Of the remaining 4 semifinal round cars the same procedure was run with the two of the 3 cars that advanced each having a loss to Logan in previous rounds. So then, 3 of the top 6 cars had lost to Logan at least once, and 3 of them had beaten him at least once. :roll: I don’t think my son got a fair shake.

In the final round of 6 cars, the competitors were allowed to add graphite. Then it was time for the first place run, winner take all, one shot. The winning car was pulled and the remaining 5 were put up for the second place run. This process continued until the final two cars ran for 5th and 6th place, at which time the derby was over. A car that had not previously lost all day ended up 5th, (I can’t believe they re-lubed after only 8 or 9 runs). :shock:

There has got to be a better way to determine the winners. I am willing to accept that luck will play some role in any event of this nature, but IMO there was way too much luck factor.

Last year, an official bumped into my son, no it wasn’t the other way around, he dropped his car and we went home early. This year no track shims, inconsistent inspection due to ambiguous 'fun sacking' rules, uneven joints on a brand new 49 foot aluminum track, obviously mis-aligned track sections connected to each end of the curved section, a p**s-poor selection method, bad luck in the lane and competition draws, all teamed up to make me say WOW! We left the mall at 6:45. I'm gonna shake my head for some time over this, but with a smile. :)

I had already vowed to initiate an upgrade to our district rules.... the list just got bigger! I would like to bring useful observations to the derby committee, along with recommendations for improvements to the existing event structure if not an entirely new way to do things. I will omit any references to my son, but will not conceal that some of my observations are from his race experience, if pressed. The attempt will be to tactfully make meaningful recommendations to the district derby committee regarding numerous issues. I know that many on this forum are knowledgeable on many of the issues that have been mentioned, so I ask for input to assist in repairing what I see as a very flawed setup. Please don’t hesitate to tell me to sit down and shut up if that is the way you see it, as all opinions will be helpful.

No update in procedures and rules = no district races for us anymore. My son makes decisions about his cars, but dad will decide if the family is going to spend all day to attend a competition that is flawed.

Now then, since I spent forever complaining, I must mention that my son is clueless to much of this, and he was real happy that he got to keep his car (since they impound the top 6 cars for 366 days). He was thrilled to build multiple cars this year, plus a bunch of work on dads’ car (he did nearly all the body work). Hardware was not the goal for the cars, at least from my standpoint, sure it would have been nice, but our time together is much more valuable, and derby cars are only one of the many things we do together. He had a great pinewood season (now the two-time pack champ), our pack is growing weekly, Spring is coming, & I don’t want to sound like a negative person, cause that ain’t me. I’m one of those folks that never quits smiling. Life is way too short to sweat the small stuff. :mrgreen:

Sorry for the book, but somehow I feel a little better.


Slow Car Disease? ~ The cure is in your hands!

User avatar
terryep
Merchant
Merchant
Posts: 420
Joined: Sat Aug 09, 2003 8:13 pm
Location: Fredericton, Canada
Contact:

Re: Race Question

Post by terryep » Sun Feb 15, 2004 9:42 pm

With that many racers and with allowing then to go away and return for their race I don't see any other way to run other than an elimination. Perhaps if they were more selective in who can race there would be more time to spend setting up, perhaps charting the racers?

Terry



User avatar
Stan Pope
Pine Head Legend
Pine Head Legend
Posts: 6888
Joined: Sat Jul 05, 2003 7:01 pm
Location: Morton, Illinois
Contact:

Re: Race Question

Post by Stan Pope » Sun Feb 15, 2004 9:47 pm

Rather a peuliar plan for district racing! Not sure how that fits the definition of "triple elimination". Perhaps ignorance is more rampant than I believed! Really, I should be more cautious and check details before denigrating the plan ... I'd be interested to run a simulation of that and get a good estimate of it's accuracy. To help, please tell us how heat and lane assignments were set.

However, there are enough exceptions to good practice that I'd expect the simulations to bear out my intuition. The fact that one can go from unbeaten to eliminated based on one bad lane assignment seems sufficient to reject the method.


Stan
"If it's not for the boys, it's for the birds!"

User avatar
Den_Leader
Master Pine Head
Master Pine Head
Posts: 102
Joined: Fri Jan 02, 2004 11:09 am
Location: Eastern Ohio

Re: Race Question

Post by Den_Leader » Sun Feb 15, 2004 10:01 pm

Heat assignments were by random name draw for each round.

Lane asignments were by random number draw per sub-set. That is to say that once the 6 boys were determined, the lanes were drawn, and that was it you had to win one of the three runs in that lane.

Thank you for consideration of the situation, I am grateful for any input.


Slow Car Disease? ~ The cure is in your hands!

User avatar
Cory
Master Pine Head
Master Pine Head
Posts: 361
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2003 7:18 am
Location: Chantilly, VA
Contact:

Re: Race Question

Post by Cory » Mon Feb 16, 2004 9:18 am

Den_Leader wrote:What happens is that 6 cars are placed on the track and run a heat. The remaining 5 cars re-stage on the same lanes and run again. The remaining 4 cars re-stage, run again, and the last 3 cars go home. The process is continued until all scouts have raced in the first round, thereby eliminating half of the competitors.
I would call this a misguided attempt at getting multiple races per boy. Organizers usually have their hearts in the right place, but not necessarily their brains.
Den_Leader wrote: Can staging accuracy by the two racers account for this change? I saw wild swings in position for the same cars on the same lanes from one heat to the next all day and the night before in the open races with adults staging the cars.
On a long, aluminum track on a level floor, I saw some fairly wild swings due to inconsistent staging, and we only have 3 sections of flat. With 5 sections of flat (which it sounds like you might have) and an unlevel floor, I think it's a reasonable extrapolation.

Den_Leader's post is a good testimonial to the fact the some parents scrutinize very closely how things are being run at derbies. Organizers live in glass houses, probably a good thing, IMHO.



User avatar
gpraceman
Site Admin
Site Admin
Posts: 4691
Joined: Fri Jun 20, 2003 12:46 am
Location: Highlands Ranch, CO
Contact:

Re: Race Question

Post by gpraceman » Mon Feb 16, 2004 12:00 pm

DMWOOD wrote:When I looked at the lane equality and opponent equality there was not an even spread for all cars. I am not so concerned with lane assignments for our track but I am concerned with the opponent equality.
I need to work with this software some more to see if I can make changes to the race schedule prior to running the race.

Do you have any suggestions on how to schedule races with equality without spending a lot of money on new software?

Thanks for your help.
Which software are you using to generate the schedules and look at the lane and opponent equities?


Randy Lisano
Romans 5:8

Awana Grand Prix and Pinewood Derby racing - Where a child, an adult and a small block of wood combine for a lot of fun and memories.

User avatar
gpraceman
Site Admin
Site Admin
Posts: 4691
Joined: Fri Jun 20, 2003 12:46 am
Location: Highlands Ranch, CO
Contact:

Re: Race Question

Post by gpraceman » Mon Feb 16, 2004 12:13 pm

gpraceman wrote:Which software are you using to generate the schedules and look at the lane and opponent equities?
Sorry, the answer to the first part of this question was in your original post. Using the Stearns method, there can be charts that do not provide a good opponent equity. You can try looking for some other software. At http://grandprix-race-central.com/gpmanager.htm, you will find several listed.


Randy Lisano
Romans 5:8

Awana Grand Prix and Pinewood Derby racing - Where a child, an adult and a small block of wood combine for a lot of fun and memories.

z2a
Apprentice
Apprentice
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Feb 10, 2004 8:57 am
Location: Houston, TX

Re: Race Question

Post by z2a » Mon Mar 01, 2004 10:20 am

YMCA adventure guides (ex-indian guides) had double elimination for years using an old timer. The double elimination resulted in unfair competetion with subjective decisions on car matchups and lane bias. Yes, the fastest, and fastest looking, cars only ran down the fast lanes. Lane bias was predominant through transition zones, and digital video showed the cars in favored lanes gaining through the transition zones. Manually transcribed times showed the problem as well. No news, but just adding to the excellent commentary on flaws of double elimination. As a race coordinator, I pushed against management and the standard winners, to get each car down each lane, 6-lane track, and an accurate timing system with software. It required emails to the effect that to if you keep the old system knowing the inherent bias, you will ensure bias and unequal competition for kids that range from 5 to 10 years old.

Great results. The kids loved seeing their cars go down the 45 foot track six times. We had trophies for every participant, not just the race or design winners (previously ribbons were the only reward). Our race was not without birthing pain -- mostly as we figured out how to get the hardware and software fault-free, but no one wants to go back to the double elimination system.

We eliminated one bias that made unfair competition. Having accurate and comparable times in all six lanes for all cars showed another significant bias that many of us knew, but didn't know how badly it affected the racers, and now few are willing to accept. There wasn't just one cockroach in that woodpile. But the data and charts are very clear, and the campaign has begun.



User avatar
2kids10horses
Master Pine Head
Master Pine Head
Posts: 432
Joined: Thu Feb 17, 2005 12:57 pm
Location: North Geogia

Re: Race Question

Post by 2kids10horses » Mon Mar 28, 2005 1:14 pm

At District this year, they used a Double Elimination system. Two cars raced head to head, two heats, one in each lane. It was evident that there was a 'fast lane' and a 'slow lane'.

The problem occured that two closely matched cars would each win in the 'fast lane'. Their solution was to run a third heat, and that car was the winner. Unfortunately, this meant that the car that drew the 'fast lane' invariably won!

I think a better solution would have been to add up the times from the previous runs and then declare the lowest time total to be the winnner.

Oh, it was a double elimination because when a car lost, it was placed in the 'losers bracket'. It then got to race against another 'loser'. The winner of that got to advance. So, in theory, to be eliminated, you would have to lose against two faster cars.

It's not a perfect system, however. Let's assume (for sake of discussion) you have the third fastest car. If you race against the fastest car first, and get put into the loser's bracket.

Now in the second round, the fastest and second fastest race, and the second fastest loses, and gets put into the losers bracket. The third fastest races against another first round loser, and advances.

In the loser's round this time, the second fastest races no. three and eliminates him. He continues to win until he tops out the losers side, and faces the winner of the 'winners bracket', or the fastest car. In a perfect world, he loses. He then races the second place car from the 'winners bracket' and wins.

What happens is the fastest car is crowned fastest, No. 2 is second, but some OTHER car is deemed third, even though he never raced against the truely third fastest car!

I guess that's what's called, "The luck of the draw".

Food for thought.



User avatar
Stan Pope
Pine Head Legend
Pine Head Legend
Posts: 6888
Joined: Sat Jul 05, 2003 7:01 pm
Location: Morton, Illinois
Contact:

Re: Race Question

Post by Stan Pope » Mon Mar 28, 2005 2:28 pm

DE schedules are notoriously poor at assigning third, fourth, etc. places, even if the lanes are equal. When lanes are less than equal, even 1st and 2nd place accuracy is at risk.

Cory put together a nice simulation that quantifies the error in 1st and 2nd. (I don't recall if it tries to evaluate lower places.) See http://pack146.nova.org/pinewood/software.html.

Given that "best two out of three" is marginally better than a single run, would it not be more effective to use the additional time to run a deeper elimination, such as 3E or 4E? This is the solution that my district adopted: after many years of awarding 1st through 5th place racing trophies using a DE chart, we began a few years ago running a 5E (quintuple elim). Running 3 cars at a time and avoiding the many byes that the DE chart involved, our time to run is approximately the same as before.


Stan
"If it's not for the boys, it's for the birds!"

Post Reply