Riding the pine: Whirlpool holds Pinewood Derby for charity

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By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Mike Fiori has a passion for woodworking.

This was made evident when the lead mechanical engineer submitted a handmade wooden car for the first Pinewood Derby race at Whirlpool Corp.’s Benton Harbor Technology Center.

Along with more than 50 other engineers and makers, Fiori paid $10 for a block of wood to turn it into a derby car for charity. Cars faced off against one another inside the Tech Center’s cafeteria, using a 35-foot track created in the building’s model shop. The money will go toward helping six families Whirlpool “adopted” at Christmas, as well as buy and stuff backpacks for the Benton Harbor Boys and Girls Club.

Deb Kazmierzak, a senior administrative assistant in refrigeration, is in charge of engagement activities at the Tech Center and came up with the idea for the derby.

“The point of all this was to raise money and have fun doing it. I was trying to come up with something we could do to incorporate what engineers would like to do,” she said. “I thought this would be cool because each of the engineers and model makers have their own talents. My goal was to beat all of them because being model makers, they think they know everything.”

They began selling derby car kits Nov. 1, where participants had to weigh in their cars and apply the normal rules from what was learned in Cub Scouts.

Fiori took part in derby racing for two years, but he admitted it was his dad who did most of the wok back then. However, Fiori now has his own wood shop where he spent 12 to 14 hours putting together his car.

His car was meticulously created by cutting down the original block of wood, adding layers of cherry, walnut and maple. He then cut out fenders for the rear wheels, while refusing to use lead to weigh down the car. Next Fiori sanded the body, fashioned the spoiler at the back of the car and applied a red oak stain.

Fiori settled on the name “The Mach 6” for his car, taking a similar name from the car in “Speed Racer.” However, the number on the car is 95, which signifies the year his Corvette was made.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “This is for a good cause and that was the No. 1 reason for why we were doing this. The $10 to buy a car is almost nothing. They should have charged more!”

Kazmierzak said the plan is to have another Pinewood Derby at Whirlpool’s plant in Amana, Iowa – which deals with refrigeration. The same track will be transported to Iowa along with Benton Harbor’s fastest car, which will race against the fastest at the Iowa plant for bragging rights and a trophy.

Robert Dillard Jr., a senior model maker at the Tech Center, sacrificed speed for creativity with his car.

“I got really busy and thought of something simple for my car,” Dillard said. “I cut the front off and the back off and made it shaped like an eraser and painted it pink. I thought it was clever.”

When his coworkers saw the pink block with the term “E-Racer” on it, many didn’t have to ask whose car it was.

“They knew it was mine right away. There were a lot of laughs,” Dillard said. “I actually started working on mine yesterday, even though we’ve had them for two months. That’s why I tried to think of something real simple. Some of these guys went all out.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 22, 2016)

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