Area racers go for soap box gold

From left: Malia Barber, Tommy Walters, Meghan Johnson, Hannah Welzbacker and Jennifer Lovato were all smiles at the All-American Soap Box Derby. - Courtesy photo
From left: Malia Barber, Tommy Walters, Meghan Johnson, Hannah Welzbacker and Jennifer Lovato were all smiles at the All-American Soap Box Derby.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Five Kitsap racers go compete at All-American derby.

POULSBO — Racing at the All-American Soap Box Derby World Championship in Akron, Ohio is the pinnacle of the sport.

This year, five Kitsap County racers — Jennifer Lovato, 14, of Poulsbo, Hannah Welzbacker, 13, of Seabeck, Tommy Walters, 10, of Silverdale and Malia Barber, 13, and Meghan Johnson, 12, both of Bremerton — raced at the 71st World Championship July 26.

A total of 609 racers from 37 states and five foreign countries participated.

Although none of the Kitsap racers placed, all five agreed speeding in Akron was a dream come true.

“It was a chance of a lifetime to be there. Akron is where all derby people want to get,” said Hannah, who’s been racing for three years and enjoys it because the girls can compete with the boys. “One of the songs they played said ‘some people don’t get a moment like this,’ and it’s true. I was just really grateful to be there.”

The five earned a trip to Akron as either a local race champion or a rally champion. Rally champions earn points for each race they win and must be among the region’s top three point earners in their division to qualify. A local race champion must win the racing city’s local race in their division. Hannah and Jennifer are local champions and Tommy, Meghan and Malia are rally champions.

The races were conducted single-elimination style. Tommy, Meghan and Malia were eliminated after their first run down the track, but Hannah and Jennifer made it to the second round, meaning they were better than two-thirds of the racers in Akron.

“When I made it through the first race I was speechless that I made it that far,” said Hannah, who’s named her car “Miss Liberty” because it’s red, white and blue.

All five racers said the major highlight of the weekend was seeing one of their regional racing friends, Maddie Stapelton from Salem, Ore. take second place.

Maddie’s been racing eight years and will be 18 in August. The derby racing age limit is 17, so this year was her first and only chance to race in Akron.

“The most exciting thing for Jennifer was watching Maddie persevere and make it to Akron and then win,” said Jennifer’s mom, Barb Lovato. Jennifer wasn’t available for comment as she’s attending a camp in Eastern Washington.

The five World Championship qualifiers belong to the Kitsap County Soap Box Derby Association (KCSBDA), which formed six years ago under the guidance of the Silverdale Sunrise Rotary. KCSBDA formed because the Rotary wanted to do a service for the community and two Rotary members raced when they were kids.

KCSBDA President and Race Director Bill Court said over the years membership has really grown. Today there’s about 15 parent members and 30 to 40 racers.

“It’s a real growing opportunity for the kids and it brings the families together,” he said.

KCSBDA hopes to construct a permanent track in Kitsap. At the moment it’s challenging for KCSBDA to host masters car races, the teenage racing division, because it’s difficult for the masters car drivers to race on street tracks.

Not being able to host all the divisions is a worry for Hannah’s mother, Bea Welzbacker.

“I’m concerned here because we may lose kids at a young age because we can’t run masters,” Welzbacker said. “It gives the teenagers an awesome opportunity.”

Until a permanent track is established — Court would like to see one in Silverdale — KCSBDA will host a rally car race on Dauntless Drive in Poulsbo today and tomorrow.

Court said KCSBDA moved from its Ridgetop location in Silverdale to Poulsbo in June for safety reasons. He said Ridgetop had too many driveways and one car did, in fact, pull out onto the street.

“Dauntless (drive) here is no problem,” he said.

All five racers hope to compete in August if their cars arrive back from Ohio in time, as it marks the start of the 2009 racing season and the first chance to tally some points for a return trip to Akron.

To learn more about KCSBDA, visit or to become a sponsor (they’re needed), contact Bill Wright at (360)-509-7582 or

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