This last weekend was the 73rd annual Soapbox Derby championships in Akron, Ohio. For those of you that have never seen an ‘Our Gang ‘ movie matinee, this is an amateur race competition for kids that began in the 1930’s. The young drivers and their 4 wheeled race cars compete around the country on straight local roads with a continual downhill grade. The cars are built by the kids and their race teams to best take advantage of gravity, aerodynamics, and a driver’s course prowess. Every summer, winners of local races around the world, meet up at ‘Derby Downs’ in Akron, Ohio U.S.A. for a week-long extravaganza of events, media hoopla, and eventually elimination matches to ultimately crown the world champions.
In my father’s day, participating in the Soapbox Derby meant literally finding crates, random skate wheels and parts, to fabricate and point a rolling ‘thrift store’ down a hill with limited braking, steering control, and safety requirements. In modern times, the Derby race cars are strictly regulated to use the ‘exact’ same specifications among all racers. This includes weight restrictions, uniform wheels, car size, brakes, steering, and obviously great precautions for the driver’s general safety.
What reminded me of all this was that I noted they are now filming a movie called ’25 Hill’, a drama depicting a kid’s heroic struggle to fulfill his deceased father’s dream to race in the Soapbox Derby. In the last three out of five years, the real life National Soapbox Derby organization has been in the red and is struggling to survive hard economic times and loss of corporate sponsorship. Actor Corbin Bernsen has made it his mission to produce this movie to try and revitalize the public’s awareness of the Soapbox Derby with it’s rich and storied past. With a little luck, if the family movie hits a chord with the general public, it could help bootstrap the Derby’s reputation as well as its meager bank account.
You see I have a tiny vested part of my emotional past in this organization. My daughter competed in the St. Louis Regional Soapbox Derby in the Super Stock and Master’s class cars for three years and won the St. Louis Championship in 2002. She went on to compete in Akron too, however lost her race that year and was eliminated. Still, It was an amazing experience and the town treated every one of those racing kids like celebrities everywhere they went.
So, if you ever get the opportunity to go watch or support one of these local racing events, your family would surely benefit from the experience. Though the cars may not look as unique or comical as their 1930’s ancestors, the kids’ determination to succeed is the same. That’s good enough reason for me to at least buy a movie ticket when ’25 Hill’ comes to town. The only thing is that I hope the ‘drive-in’ movie theater is DOWNtown – with no motor, Soapbox Derby cars only ‘do’ hills in ONE direction!