More to the Derby than a downhill race

One of last year’s 37 Soap Box Derby racers gets ready to take off down Ridgetop Boulevard. This year, the event has grown to 48 contestants in the third annual event. - Photo by Jesse Beals
One of last year’s 37 Soap Box Derby racers gets ready to take off down Ridgetop Boulevard. This year, the event has grown to 48 contestants in the third annual event.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

Staff writer

For Sandra Smith, one of the organizers of the Third Annual Silverdale Soap Box Derby, the race tends to take a back seat. More important than the event itself is the driving force behind it — teamwork.

That’s because for Smith, her team revolves around her granddaughter, 10-year-old Malia Barber.

“It’s a family affair,” Smith said. “We’re grandparents of a racer. She and grandpa (Vince Smith) built the car together. They built a new one for this race. And we’ve traveled with her to rally races. It’s something where we’ve been able to get closer to her.”

The race, which starts at 9 a.m. Sunday on Ridgetop Boulevard between Myhre and Mickelberry roads, brings together 48 local racers who’ve spent time and energy building their derby racers which are propelled solely by gravity.

This year’s turnout is the largest the event has had in its short history, following its 30 racers in its 2003 debut and 37 in 2004.

“We have a wonderful turnout,” Smith said. “We had to cut if off at 48. And we’re going to double elimination. That gives everyone a better chance. If you have one bad run, it gives you a chance to catch up.”

The Derby kicks off Friday with its annual banquet, followed by car inspections on Saturday. Following the inspections, the cars are locked up until Sunday morning.

The Soap Box Derby has run nationally since 1934. Each August, the World Championships take place at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio. The Derby’s goals are to “teach youngsters some of the basic skills of workmanship, the spirit of competition and the perseverance to continue a project once it has begun.”

“They have to use power tools like sanders,” Smith said. “It’s a learning experience and a bonding experience.”

The Silverdale race is a local qualifying race, meaning the winner goes on to compete in Akron. The Silverdale Rotary helps to offset some of the costs, but hopefuls should expect some out-of-pocket expenses.

Once stricken with derby fever, Smith said it’s tough to shake, citing Rotary president Bill Wright’s family, whose daughter Jocelyn is now in her third year racing.

“Now they’ve got the bug,” Smith said. “That’s what happens; it gets in your blood.”

Smith said there’s simply not enough community events that can pull kids and families together like the Derby.

“It’s what’s going to keep families together,” she said. “You have to find events to bring families together. We’ve got five generations watching these races. Our community just needs to support activities like this and encourage them. The kids are doing something physical. They’re not just sitting in front of the (television).”

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