The Rock Candy 500 Returns 

The race begins Thursday evening in the River Market.

ON YOUR MARK: Cars stand ready for the beginning of a race at last year's Rock Candy 500.
  • ON YOUR MARK: Cars stand ready for the beginning of a race at last year's Rock Candy 500.

The Rock Candy 500 started as a soapbox derby. We'd spend weeks crafting little wooden Bugattis, fashioning a racing suit out of old football pads and tear off down some twisty stretch of Hillcrest to a Chuck Berry soundtrack, the Times brain trust figured. But our better angels prevailed on us, with visions of blood on the pavement, to dial it back a tick. Now here we are, two years later, set to launch the second annual Rock Candy 500 pinewood derby, a race that features all of the craftsmanship and badassery of a soap-box derby, with none of the potential broken bones.

The gist for those who never went through Cub Scouts: Racers begin — weeks, days, maybe even hours — before the race with a 7-inch-long rectangular block of pine wood (or, technically, any kind of wood), which they shape, using whatever tool works, into the body of a model car or an animal or a superhero or anything else with wheels. Then they decorate, with paint or glitter or giant brand-name stickers, attach nails for axles and affix plastic wheels on the ends of the nails. On race night, gravity will guide the cars down a declining, 40-foot-long three-lane track.

If this is the first you're hearing about the 500, A) you need to read the Arkansas Times more and B) it's too late to enter. But if this year's race is anything like last year's, you needn't have a car to have a good time. Last go 'round, everyone had a big time hooting it up when David Koon's marvel of modern pinewood derby design faltered about halfway down, and it's always fun to watch grown folks struggle to accept defeat at the hands of little kids (we're bound to have at least a couple Cub Scout rounders who jump from race to race, cleaning up on merit badges and trophies). Plus, we'll have race-themed and generally good music. And we'll be selling beer and Cokes for cheap.

Most importantly, this year's proceeds benefit the Centers for Youth and Families Boy Scout Troop 726, a troop of at-risk boys who, according to the Center for Youth and Families' Dawn Prasifka, have “one foot in the gang and the other in Boy Scouts.” Every week, CYF picks up the 10- to 16-year-olds and takes them to a center, where they get help with homework, dinner and have Boy Scout meetings. The troop is, of course, just a small but important part of the state's oldest continuously running nonprofit, which serves 8,000 children and families with a continuum of care that includes intervention, prevention and treatment.

Once again, Robert Roling of Kustoms Royale in Little Rock (and Go Fast) is generously donating some seriously badass trophies, affixed with various car parts and custom painted. Prizes will be awarded for speed, paint, design, best kid's entry (under 14) and best of show. Times employees are eligible to enter, but may not win any prize other than speed. Good news for the field, my snake car is looking slippery fast.

Grease up the wheels (graphite works best). Don your Mark Martin hat. Call your friends. Bring the kids. C'mon.

Rock Candy 500
7-9 p.m. Thursday May 6
River Market Pavilion
$5 admission for non-racers


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