GREENFIELD — There’s speed, and then there’s style.
Miley Davis was aiming for both as she and her father worked on her wooden AWANA Derby car. She remembers when she spotted on a store shelf just the right paint for the car’s smooth finish.
“It looked greenish-bluish, and I love green,” said Miley, who turned 8 on Wednesday.
That shade was the backdrop for a wide gold stripe and girly decals such as a crown, plus a pair of checkered flags for the hood.
“It looks good in a race,” she said of the pair of flags.
For Zeke Settles, 6, what looked good was a Blue Thunder monster truck, so that’s what he tried to create for his entry, complete with tiny American flags poked into the back corners of the truck bed. The Eastern Hancock first-grader said the most challenging part of the process was adding the thunder bolts all over the truck with a paint pen.
Miley and Zeke were among 33 young racers who competed Feb. 6 in the AWANA Derby at Brandywine Community Church. Each child who participated is part of the AWANA children’s program that meets at the church on Wednesday evenings. Those sessions are a mix of Bible stories, workbook time, reciting verses and playing games in the gym. During each of the 10 years AWANA has met at the church, a Saturday morning has been set aside for those who choose to participate in the race.
AWANA Commander Jeff Weiland admits there’s nothing terribly spiritual about cars rolling down a ramp, but he still feels the event fits well with AWANA’s purpose.
“The goal of AWANA is reaching kids with Christ,” he said. “That (racing event) engages kids.”
He said it helps engage parents, too, noting some will come hang out for three hours at the derby in the church gymnasium even if they haven’t yet felt comfortable stepping into a service. He also said fashioning the cars helps promote children and parents spending time together on a goal.
“In our society and culture, kids don’t have very much opportunity to make things,” said Weiland, an art teacher at Greenfield-Central High School. With the cars, he said, “They can feel successful because, ‘I did this.’”
The cars begin as rectangular wood blocks, or depending on which kit a child selects, a basic Indy car or stock car shape. For youngsters with the plain wood blocks, Weiland offers to cut blocks if they draw an outline on the side of the block for his saw to follow.
He and other adult leaders offer race-day support as well, weighing in cars at check-in and offering to glue metal and add weight to cars below the limit.
Competitors can earn prizes for creative car design or for the most first- or second-place finishes in their age group’s set of heats. The winners of the three age divisions compete near the end of the event for a grand prize. After that, adults can enter cars of their own and compete for a traveling trophy Weiland fashioned from a racecar piston.
Peter Hummel was competing in the oldest AWANA age group, the T and T class. He started with a wood block and asked Weiland to cut it. Then he used a belt sander and wood markers, admitting both the car’s shape and its mostly-black-and-blue color scheme imitated a past design by older brother Nathan that won the grand prize one year.
Peter’s strategy brought some success: he won the T and T division.
Miley and Zeke competed in the middle age group, the Sparks class. Each had a car that sailed to good finishes in early heats, but neither received one of the trophies given to the top three finishers in each age group.
Zeke took encouragement from how much longer his car lasted than it did a year ago. “Last year, I didn’t do so good,” he said.
Miley, too, was able to look on the bright side: she was looking forward to a prebirthday trip to Build-a-Bear later that day.