“Load em Up”
“Hop on In!”
“Handlers in the red box”
“Good Luck Champs!”
The official Soapbox Derby race starter announces as he pulls back on the release bar.
Sami and Kayla, two tween-aged girls, along with their soapbox derby cars, begin inching away from the starting post, building up speed as they head down the nearly 1/4 mile track toward the finish line. Dads look on from atop the hill as moms eagerly await their focused and determined but also giggling girls at the bottom.
Since 1936, kids and young adults have come to Akron for the All-American Soap Box Derby. Today is the Fall Rally at Derby Downs in Akron, Oh. The idea of the Soap Box Derby grew out of a photographic assignment of Dayton, Ohio, newsman Myron Scott. He came across a group of boys racing their homemade cars in the summer of 1933 and was so impressed with the event that he acquired a copyright and went in search of a corporate sponsor to establish a national program.
Chevrolet liked Scott’s proposal and agreed to sponsor the first official All-American Soap Box Derby in Dayton in 1934. The following year, the race moved to Akron, Ohio because of its central location and hilly terrain.
Akron’s world famous Derby Downs was built as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1936. Created by order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and has been the home of the Derby Classic for 76 of the event’s 78 years.
A Family Affair
This family friendliness continues throughout my visit for today’s event. While strolling down pit row, I notice a car emblazoned with “Owensboro, KY”. I’m shocked to see a competitor from my hometown some 400+ miles away.
I introduce myself to the cars driver and her dad. Dad enthusiastically answers my questions about the sport and gives me a brief introduction to the car’s dynamics: cross-binding, tail weights and the process of swapping wheels with competitors. The sport seems to be mostly about the fun, but the competition is fierce and seeking out any competitive advantage in the tightly regulated car is paramount.
Down the Stretch, he Comes
Murphy and I stroll up to the top of the hill towards the starting line. I see a lone competitor and his father walking down the track. This is to be the young boy, Jacobs’ first run and he is a bit apprehensive to run the full track and obtaining top speed so he starts further down on the less steep part of the track. Jacob possesses a steely focus as he zips by me. This is just a trial run and he crosses the finish line to uproarious applause from the other competitors and a proud mother waiting with open arms.
This meet is an all weekend event with a full complement of racers all of ages, race, and gender taking their turns down the track. It is particularly fun watching the father/daughter teams. The guys get to be guys and turn wrenches and tweak the weight bolts, elevator bolts, and tung oil applications all while bonding with their daughters who are busy checking out the competition.
I seem to recall references of soap box derbies as a young man. For whatever reason, I never had or took the opportunity to participate. That’s unfortunate as it is a bit competitive but also a ton of family fun. But with a weight limit of 200lbs for the car and driver, I’m afraid I missed my opportunity.