Summer Fun: The All-American Soap Box Derby

Independence Day is a time for paying tribute to our country and its national past-times, right? A hot dog at the ballgame is the first one that comes to mind. But what about another American classic: the soap box derby! Although not as popular as baseball, soap box derby racing is an original American past-time that has been entertaining kids across the country since 1933.

Each year, regional races are held throughout the US, leading up to the All-American Soap Box Derby final in Dayton, Ohio each July. This year the championship will be held on July 21. Racers are usually between the ages of 6 and 16.

A few weeks ago I attended some of the preliminary derby festivities in my own hometown. The two top seeded racers from the day get to travel to Ohio next month to compete in the national championships. Here are some photos:

The first derby race cars were made from orange crates, soap boxes, sheet metal and even wheels off a baby stroller. Year after year the races keep getting bigger and the engineering of the cars improves. Derby racing has now blossomed into a worldwide event with enthusiasts around the globe.

Sponsors help spruce up these sleek colorful cars, a far cry from the early days of true soap boxes on wheels. But the racers do build these cars themselves — that’s part of the rules. There are handy do-it-yourself kits that kids can use.

The key is aerodynamics. These unpowered vehicles have no engines. They perform with the help of only one source — gravity:

Heats of two line up in rows and wait for the signal:

And they’re off! Wide, tree-lined Central Ave. in Pearl River, NY is perfectly designed for these derby downhills:

Haystacks and orange cones lie waiting to protect runaway derby drivers who may roll beyond the finish line:

Today’s cars are mostly made of pinewood. There is a turning mechanism for the front wheels:

There are also specific restrictions for each division (stock, super stock, masters). Sometimes weights are used to meet these requirements:

Cool stuff, huh? There may still be regional racing events going on across the nation prior to the main event on July 21. If a town near you is participating, be sure to check it out — or head to Ohio in a few weeks to get in on the downhill action!