This fun-filled and engaging activity is something our grandchildren and their parents seriously love! We host this event every Christmas in conjunction with a simple family dinner.
Hoagies are always a favorite, and this was our fare this year. Each made their distinct sandwich with all the trimmings. We also served Egan Punch (see recipes at the end of Grandparenting on Purpose).
We refer to this event as the Christmas Car Races. We begin the event by having each grandchild, their parents, and other guests draw a number from a hat. This number determines when individual racers select their cars or vehicles for the race.
This year we had twenty-four contestants and eight types of cars (VW bugs, ambulances, school busses, jeeps, English minis, police cars, blue sedans, and VW buses). It’s surprising how much thought goes into picking the perfect, winning vehicle. These cars share one thing in common. They are all pull-back cars. You wind them up by holding them on a table and rolling them back and forth rapidly until they are ready to “lay down some rubber” or propel themselves to the finish line.
When we were young grandparents, we held our races on our hardwood floors. As you will see, we now race them on a large table or kitchen island. It is so much easier to function standing up than kneeling on hardwood floors.
As each racer draws a number from a hat, Scott, our son-in-law designs a double-elimination bracket—this is what we call it. If you do not have a lot of racers, you could have multiple heats of races where grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and grandparents race many times in sets of two. The winner of the most heats wins the competition.
Each racer must understand the rules of the competition. First, the cars must be lined up precisely behind the start line. If a car careens off the table or track before it crosses the finish line, it loses that heat. Also, racers who push their vehicles or leave the start line prematurely fail the race outright or must race again, honoring the agreed-upon rules.
Our son, Daniel, created another element for the races this year. It was a kind of demolition derby. As the quarter-final races began, he released another vehicle from the end line, creating opportunities for collisions with the oncoming race cars. Our grandkids seem to enjoy this new element in racing. However, I would not recommend this practice until you have been racing for a few years.
Car racing is a great learning experience for all participants, especially children, and some adults. They learn what it means to have a slow car. They experience some winning but mostly losing. They see what it is like to compete with adults (aunts, uncles, guests, and grandparents).
Over time, the races have been won primarily by children or youth. Quite frankly, they love “beating” older relatives, especially aunts, uncles, and grandparents. They experience momentary surges in their self-esteem. This year Jane won the entire event. She was so happy. Also, the fastest cars this year were the jeeps. And I am pleased to report there were no “black” jeeps in the family.
Some days after our family Christmas Car Races, Diane and I had dinner with our wonderful neighbors—the Parenti’s. They had a grandson, Lucca, spending the night with them. I told Lucca that we had a surprise for him and his grandparents. He was so excited. After we finished a fantastic, homemade Italian dinner, I walked over to our home and returned with racing cars for all of us.
We cleared the dinner table and prepared it for our car races. We created the start and end lines with a bit of masking tape. We reviewed the rules and began our racing in earnest.
Lucca thoroughly enjoyed every minute of our racing. Later I discovered that he loves cars—this was the perfect gift for him and the ideal activity for someone his age. We gifted him the cars, and he was delighted. As we were leaving a fun-filled evening of dinner and car racing, he was still absorbed by his new acquisitions on his grandparents’ hardwood floors in their front room.
Earlier during our car races, I mentioned the jeeps and how fast they were in our earlier competitions with our own grandchildren and their parents. The “drivers” of the jeeps won each of their heats. And it was a jeep driver who won the whole event. I told him I would see if I had any jeeps in my possession. At the time of our races at the Parenti’s, I could not find any speedy jeeps, but I told Lucca that I would look for one.
The next morning before his parents picked him up after spending the night with his grandmother and grandfather; he brought us a note. As you read the letter, you will sense his complete glee with the races and his gifts—the Christmas cars.
Diane and I loved his closing question: “When can you come to our house?” This entire experience represents the best elements of great traditions. The races are fun and engaging. They provide significant learning opportunities to master the answers to these questions: How is one a gracious loser? How is one a humble winner? How important are rules and honoring them? What is resilience? How do you respond to other's successes and losses? What does it mean to be a good sport?
I am happy to report that I found a fast jeep for Lucca—just what he requested in his note.
You are probably wondering where to find and buy pull-back cars? They are readily available online. They come in all shapes and sizes—dinosaur cars, construction vehicles, sports cars, police cars, etc. Imagine a category of cars, trucks, or vehicles; they are available.
I end where we began. You really should try this!