Nerd Culture

Pinewood Classic 2017: A Guide to This Saturday's Event at Short Leash

One of the stylish racers featured at a previous Pinewood Classic.
One of the stylish racers featured at a previous Pinewood Classic. Courtesy of Short Leash Hotdogs
The local cineplex ain’t the only place in the Valley you can witness colorfully tricked out race cars battling for supremacy this weekend. Nope. As it turns out, some fast and furious action, albeit of the lo-fi variety, will be happening in downtown Phoenix during the annual Pinewood Classic on Saturday, April 22, at Short Leash Hot Dogs.

And, best of all, you won't have to cough up 15 bucks to see it.

As its name implies, the free event riffs on the Pinewood Derby, the traditional Cub Scouts activitiy involving custom-building a 5-ounce wooden car and sending it hurtling down a lengthy track in pursuit of honor and glory.

It’s been a homespun rite of passage for many youths and a staple of scouting since the 1950s. And Short Leash co-owner Brad Moore felt a grown-up version of the pastime would make for a unique and cool event.

“As Scouts, we probably all experienced the fact that our dads would take the project over and probably had more fun building the [race car] than we would as kids. So it seems like good opportunity to make a version of the Pinewood Derby for the adults, too,” Moore says. “It’s a little bit of nostalgia, a little bit of reliving your childhood, and just this fun thing for everyone to get behind and enjoy.”

The Pinewood Classic came about in 2013 when local graphic designer Doug Penick came up with the idea over beers with Moore.

“We were chit-chatting and he came up with the thought of doing an adults-only Pinewood Derby,” Moore says. “I thought, ‘That's brilliant, let's make it happen,’ and a few months later, we rolled out the first one.”

Four years later, the event attracts several dozen participants, all of whom create their own custom-built race cars, many of which sport cute, clever, or humorous themes and designs. That’s one of the aspects of the Pinewood Classics that Moore enjoys: all the creative ways that racers trick out their cars.

"It's cool to see all the different thing that people do with their cars,” he says. “Some are built for speed, some are built for craftsmanship, and others are just built for fun."

And one of his favorite entries was one that wasn’t exactly track-worthy.

“I think the one that I though was the funniest and most clever actually never made it down the track,” Moore says. “A guy built a car that looked like Hannibal Lecter on a stretcher. It had three wheels and it had his mask and all these details. It was absolutely hilarious but wound up never completing a single race.”

Needless to say, Moore’s really looking forward to seeing what people come up with at this year’s event on Saturday. Here’s what else you can expect about the event.

click to enlarge Race cars lined up at a previous edition of the Pinewood Classic. (Hey, isn't that the Griswold Family Truckster?) - COURTESY OF SHORT LEASH HOTDOGS
Race cars lined up at a previous edition of the Pinewood Classic. (Hey, isn't that the Griswold Family Truckster?)
Courtesy of Short Leash Hotdogs
When and Where: This year’s Pinewood Classic takes place on Saturday, April 22, at Short Leash Hotdogs, 110 East Roosevelt Street. The juniors competition is from noon to 2:30 p.m., while the adult races go from 5 to 9 p.m. Registration starts 90 minutes to an hour prior to the races.

Prices: Admission to the event is free. Food and drinks will be available for purchase.

How to Participate: Unfortunately, all of the slots in this year’s classic have already been claimed. However, you’re more than welcome to come and watch the action unfold and cheer on the competitors. If you’d still like to be involved in some fashion, organizers are seeking volunteers for race day. Anyone interested in participating can click this link to volunteer for the juniors race or this one for the adult races.

Age Limits: It’s a family-oriented event and the juniors races are open to children ages 3 to 12. Kids are also welcome to attend the adult races, although Brad cautions that some of the cars might feature risque or cheeky themes. "It's an adult race, so I can't guarantee it's going to be PG," he says. And as you'd expect, you'll have to be 21 and over to buy beer or cocktails.

Getting There: We wholeheartedly recommend using the light rail if possible. The Central Avenue/Roosevelt Street station is two blocks from Short Leash, fares are cheap ($2 for a one-way ride and $4 for an all-day pass), and you can avoid a DUI.

click to enlarge The 40-foot race track created by Porter Barn Wood for the Pinewood Classic. - COURTESY OF PORTER BARN WOOD
The 40-foot race track created by Porter Barn Wood for the Pinewood Classic.
Courtesy of Porter Barn Wood
Parking: It's free to leave your vehicle in the lot next to Short Leash or the one just north of Art Awakenings. Spaces are limited and are available on a first come, first served basis. If things are full, you can park in one of the spaces available along Roosevelt Row or any of the adjacent streets. Many have meters, however, and are $1-$1.50 per hour. (The Pango app/service will allow you to prepay and reserve spaces for multiple hours.)

Weather: It's late April in Phoenix, so it'll be sunny and hot during the day with temperatures in the mid-90s. As such, they'll have a couple of tents and awnings at the event. Remember your sun protection, though.

Food and Drinks: Short Leash will offer its regular menu, and Rollover Doughnuts will serve some of its latest creations. Moore says that all cans and drafts will be $5 each and Grand Canyon Brewing will have a tent and a specialty cask beer flavored with hints of pine and citrus, tying in with the theme of the event. Colorado-based craft gin distillery Lee Spirits Co. will also be mixing up a variety of gin cocktails for $5 a piece.

Entertainment: Local folk duo Foxheart will perform in the early afternoon, while indie rock act Crossfire Lounge will perform in the evening.

Prizes and Awards: A mix of trophies and medals will be given out to racers in both the adult and junior’s division in a variety of categories. That includes a grand prize for the fastest overal car, as well as a toilet-shaped trophy that will good-naturedly go to the first one eliminated (a.k.a. the “king of the losers”). Awards will also be handed out to the race car with the greatest craftsmanship, the most humorous theme, and the one with the best “Team Sprit.” A pair of racers will also each take home a Tuft & Needle mattress, as will two winners of a prize raffle during the event.

What to Bring: Your ID and some cash, comfortable shoes, and a fully charged cellphone. As we mentioned, you’ll also want a hat, sunglasses, and some sunblock as well. NASCAR regalia is optional, unless you’re trying to be ironic.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.