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For soap box racers, life is downhill

June 12, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ
  • Haley Pitzer wins a heat Saturday afternoon at the soap box derby in Martinsburg.
Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- Harnessing the pull of gravity, soap box derby racers glided down South Queen Street on Saturday, hoping to zoom to a national championship in Ohio.

Cars began rolling next to the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library. They picked up speed by the First Presbyterian Church, zipped past the Martinsburg Boys & Girls Club and sped to the finish line.

Then, the brakes screeched as cars approached Laura Faircloth's law office.

In less than 30 seconds, the ride was over, but for many, soap box derby memories will last.

Brother and sister Trey and Shelby Knepper of Hedgesville, W.Va., renewed their rivalry.

Shelby was the Masters Division champion in 2008. Trey won last year.

Neither came in first this year, but Shelby defeated Trey in a head-to-head battle on Saturday.

Trey, 18, said he liked going to Akron, Ohio, last year for the world championship and racing against the world's best.

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Racers competed in three divisions in Martinsburg on Saturday, based on age of the drivers, and combined weight of the car and driver.

First-time soap boxer Tanner Femi, 8, of Martinsburg, coasted down South Queen Street in a car called "Blue Falcon II," which was given to him to use.

With his eyes on the finish line, he thought to himself, "Hopefully, I win. Hopefully, I win," he said later.

His father, Troy, said Tanner wanted to race after watching a friend participate last year.

Racing is firmly planted in the Kysar family of Charles Town.

"I have 10 years of parts in the dining room," which has become the soap box derby room, Jennifer Kysar said.

Her son, Garrett, now 18, won a Masters Division world championship in Akron four years ago.

Garrett's sister, Alex, 20, raced Saturday in the Masters Division in a car with red primer and her name written on it with a marker. She finished third.

Alex Kysar said she enjoys the speed.

"If you're that far off the ground," she said, indicating several inches, "it feels a lot faster."

Until this year, winners of the Martinsburg event advanced to the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron.

This year, local winners will compete next month in the National Derby Rallies (NDR) championship, also in Akron. Dina Edwards, the Martinsburg race director, said there's been some uncertainty about the All-American race.

She said Saturday's races finished before a storm hit.

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