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Soap box derby returns to Martinsburg

June 10, 2000|By JOSH POLTILOVE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Emilee Shrader looked down the hill's slope and prepared mentally herself for the race. The 12-year-old Hagerstown native, who spent a month building her super stock soap box car, was excited and nervous.

The race began, her first heat, and zooming down South Queen Street at speeds approaching 40 miles an hour, she kept her head low and controlled her car as best she could.

It worked. She won.

Even though Shrader lost her second heat and was knocked out of the competition, she had a great time.

"It felt exciting that I won because I'd never really done it before," Shrader said. "I'm not upset that I lost because I just wanted to have fun."

She was not the only person to have fun at the Roach Oil/Texaco Classic Soap Box Derby, Martinsburg's first such race since 1951.

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It all started when Hunter Mauck, who finished first in the 1951 race, waved the green flag to begin Saturday's first race.

More than 1,000 fans showed for the derby, and Mauck said the event did a good job of bringing the community together.

It also allows children wishing to drive a vehicle the ability to do just that, he said.

"I'm really proud to start the first race," Mauck said. "It's quite an honor."

In the end, Thomas Teter of Kearneysville, W.Va., captured the stock title and Kyle Spiker of Martinsburg, W.Va., won in the super stock competition.

The two will race in the national competition in Akron, Ohio, in July. They will compete with hundreds of the best racers around, said Martin Frye, who helped organize the race.

The 38 racers who participated Saturday, all of them between the ages of 9 and 16 as of Aug. 1, started at the Boarman Arts Center and rode 630 feet down the hill. Gravity and the slope of the street controlled their cars' speed.

The derby was held in Martinsburg from 1936 to 1951, with four years off during World War II, race co-organizer Ron Butts said. After the race's sponsor, who owned Trammell Hollis Chevrolet on Winchester Avenue, passed away in 1952, the competition ended.

Frye first considered reviving the derby in November 1998 after running into the mother of a person he faced in the 1951 race. Since then, he and Butts have organized Norwalk Soap Box Derby Inc. He is the president and Butts is the director.

"It took a lot of hard work and a lot of hours," Frye said. "But it was all worth it."

Butts said watching the derby is a special occasion for those who raced in Martinsburg years ago.

"There's a lot of nostalgia here from the older people," Butts said. "This brings back a lot of childhood memories."

In the stock racing division Saturday, the racer and car could weigh a combined maximum of 200 pounds. In super stock, the limit is 230 pounds. Butts said the cars weigh 62 pounds.

The cars are about 80 inches long, and only the wooden blocks in front of their axles can be painted. The rest can be decorated only with decals.

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