Twenty-nine special needs students from Village View Elementary raced their hand-built wooden cars Thursday at the Pine Derby Championship hosted by the Huntington Beach Optimist Club.
Before students, parents and faculty filed into the school auditorium to watch the race, club members assembled a 32-foot varnished wooden race track.
The track was placed in the center of the auditorium. Flags served as decorative boundries for students.
Bob Eastland, president of the Optimist Club, said the organization has hosted the race, at first aiding deaf and hard-of-hearing students, for four years.
The Huntington Beach Dealers Assn. donated $500 to the club to help buy materials needed to make and decorate cars.
The process takes three weeks, Eastland said.
First, board members shape wooden blocks into cars. Then, students help sand the vehicles, paint them and select a number to display on the car. Six-ounce weights are also added to the base of the cars to ensure all are equal in weight. At the end of the tournament, students can take home their cars.
Club members placed two cars on the track, released a latch and let them zoom into a white box stuffed with a plaid blanket to stop them safely.
Meanwhile, three other club members congregated at the end of the track to call the winners of the qualifying races.
Fifth-grader Wyatt Singer won a qualifying race, but couldn't beat his opponent to make it to the final round.
"He's proud he won the qualifying round," said Matt Singer, Wyatt's dad, who took off work to watch his son participate in the Pine Derby Championship.
"This is a great activity for kids. It really looks like they're all loving it," Singer said. "The best part is seeing how all these students are encouraging each other and everyone is included — the older and younger kids."
After a handful of rounds, the winners were announced: first-graders Arieanna Hewitt and James Martin-Haroz placed first and second, respectively and kindergartner Cash Eaton was third.
Winners posed for a photo with Optimist Club members and Ocean View School District Supt. Carol Hansen and Board President Gina Clayton-Tarvin.
Asked how she felt being Pine Derby champ, Arieanna raised her purple car in the air and said, "happy, excited," before giggling.
"It's really wonderful that this group of special need students can be involved," said Donna Berg, Arieanna's grandmother. "I'm surprised she's the first-place winner, but I'm excited for her. She likes to win."