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Soap Box Derby creates festival atmosphere

April 17, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT
  • Kody Munch, of Hancock, rolls across the finish line Saturday in the first heat of Hancock's Soap Box Derby.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

HANCOCK -- Just off Main Street, with a firehouse on one corner and a playground on another, a group of youngsters stood next to their hand-built cars and surveyed the course stretched out before them.

It was pure Norman Rockwell.

Then, it was all downhill.

One by one, they slid behind the wheel, crouched low like bobsled racers and coasted down West High Street with the wind in their faces and spectators cheering them on.

After 50 years, the Soap Box Derby had returned to Hancock.

About 35 young people from across the area arrived in town early Saturday morning to participate in an activity that has slowly vanished from the American landscape, event organizer Tim Smith said.

"Back when I was a kid, I remember watching Soap Box Derby racing in Hagerstown," he said. "I always thought it was a lot of fun."

When Smith became a Hancock Town Council member, he wanted to concentrate on offering more activities for youths, he said.

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Since the Soap Box Derby always struck his interest, he thought it would be great to bring it back and see what happened.

The response was better than he could have imagined.

"We have racers, a great turnout and a lot of volunteers," he said. "People have really been excited about this event."

In fact, the town took on a festival atmosphere Saturday, with people lining the streets or sitting on their front porches and concession stands offering food and drinks.

"Actually, we would love to see it turn into a festival," Smith said. "We're planning on offering about five races throughout the year."

Smith said the Soap Box Derby is a terrific way to show off the nonmotorized car you've built and test it against other youths' designs.

But there are rules that must be followed, including weight and age limitations and car eligibility. For instance, the racer must take part in the construction of his or her car, with an adult assisting with the more difficult aspects.

Age groups for this weekend's competition include 8- to 10-year-olds and 10- to 13- year olds. There also are several older competitors.

Smith said the event continues Sunday.

This is a sanctioned event, he said, with winners moving on to the next level of competition. Racers advance to the National Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, based on a points system.

Brian Nelle, 10, of Frederick, Md., said this is his second year of participating in Soap Box Derby competition.

Standing next to his blue derby GT, Brian said he enjoys racing "because I like to go fast and I like to compete."

Brian said, so far, his best finish in any race is fourth place.

Tony Day of Hancock, said this is the first time his son, Brady, 8, has been part of a Soap Box Derby, but he's sure it won't be the last.

"He's having fun, a blast," Day said. "I think we'll be doing this for a while."

Day said he helped his son assemble the fiberglass body and block of wood, turning them into a sleek aerodynamic machine.

His car is sponsored by NAPA Auto Parts.

Brady won his first race down the hill and was awaiting his second turn, hoping to slice a fraction of a second off his first finish.

"I think he did pretty well," Day said. "Now, we come back tomorrow."

Dahlia Miller of Hagerstown said she was on hand for the derby to cheer on her grandson, who was participating in the race.

"This is wonderful," she said. "When I was a kid, the Soap Box Derby was everywhere. It was a piece of Americana. It's nice to see someone is helping it make a comeback."

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