Photos by Daniel Mainzer Photography
NASCAR has Daytona, endurance racers have Le Mans, crap-can racers have ChumpCar, and kids who race soap box have the All-American Soap Box Derby World Championships in Akron, Ohio. For a kid involved in gravity racing there is no bigger achievement than the three lane “show” at Derby Downs. This year Krider Racing and Speed:Sport:Life went to the big race to check it out.
My son, Gus, was lucky enough to earn the opportunity to participate in the 2011 World Championships after getting a lucky break in the qualifying race in California, thanks to Alison Parman. The Silicon Valley Soap Box Derby, headed up by Chris Harris and sponsored by ASI, shipped Gus’s sleek blue and yellow Masters Division racecar to Akron. We shipped our tools FedEx and then grabbed a 2,400 mile flight to Ohio.
Ford gave us a 2011 Ford Taurus SHO (all-wheel drive twin turbo charged hot rod) to cruise around Ohio. The SHO turned out to be the perfect ride for a racing family of four on a world championship adventure. The navigation system worked great for us out-of-towners who couldn’t afford to get lost and possibly be late for the race. The 365 plus horsepower engine mated to a six speed automatic transmission made merging onto the confusing Ohio freeways absolutely effortless.
We loved the car and decorated the rear window to let everyone in Ohio know that California was in the house. One time, I jumped on the throttle and threw the heads of my family back into their headrests. My son said, “I wish my soap box car could borrow some of the SHO’s power for my race this weekend!” “Sorry, Son, gravity will be your only engine this weekend.”
One derby dad didn’t agree with the “gravity is the only engine” sentiment and in 1973 affixed an electromagnet inside the nose of the derby car. This magnet would help pull the car out of the starting gate as the metal gate dropped down moving the car beyond the static moment of inertia and into kinetic energy mode. It may not sound like much, but when these races are won and lost by a thousandth of a second, anything helps.
The battery which operated the electro magnet was stashed inside the headrest of the car (as seen above). The car is kept in the All-American Soap Box Derby history museum and is on display as a warning to other derby dads.
Each kid had the chance to take two runs down the infamous hill before the race on Saturday. Our test runs went well with Gus coming across the finish line first in each practice. Gus’s car received a fresh aerodynamic paint job completed by the guys at Miracle Auto Body and Paint in Napa, California. The new aero work was proving extremely beneficial at cutting down drag and helping him slip through the air to be fast at the finish.
Before the race the car endured a very detailed technical inspection. If the officials in yellow shirts found anything they didn’t like, they mandated the car be brought within spec while fixing the car directly in front of them. Once they were satisfied with the repairs, then the car and driver were weighed in (in the Masters Division the total weight could not be above 255 pounds).
The job of a derby dad is not an easy one. You spend most of your time holding a heavy soap box derby car and making sure it doesn’t roll down the hill and hit some other kid.
Our final practice run went great. The car seemed to go straight, and we didn’t appear to have any problems. Gus was happy with the car and the narrow one eighth of an inch we gave him to peek out under his helmet appeared to be enough that he could avoid the guardrails and stay within his lane, which is a good thing.
The All-American Soap Box Derby has been running this event for 74 years and it is steeped in tradition. Hollywood star, Corbin Bernsen (best known for his role in the film Major League), wrote, directed and starred in a new film, 25 Hill, about the All-American Soap Box Derby race. Bernsen was at the race all weekend, headed the parade and even spoke at the awards ceremony.
The race at Derby Downs is a weeklong event. Occasionally we had a free moment to run around Ohio and check things out. Cruising around in the Taurus SHO, we found the strangest local phenomenon (well, strange to us Californians) -drive through liquor stores!
The folks at “The Brew Thru” would come right up to the window as we kept the old Taurus running and ordered two cases of Dos Equis. The patrons at “The Brew Thru” even gave the kids candy. It was awesome! America -give me alcohol, give me horsepower, give me convenience or give me death.
Finally the big day came, and it was time to race. Over 500 kids from all over the country and even the world made the trek to Akron, Ohio, for the world championships. Teams from New Zealand, Canada, Germany and Japan were in attendance.
Members from the Soap Box Derby International Committee approached us and asked if Gus would like to represent the United States of America in the Masters Division International race. The International race took a representative from each country and let them run in a separate competition to crown an international champion. Gus would be the only U.S. representative in the class.
On Saturday, after a long hard day in the heat and humidity of Akron, the kids raced down the hill narrowing down the elimination brackets. At the end of the day all that was left was the finals.
Kids sat in the shade and stayed hydrated while derby dads muscled the cars around the pits waiting for the next round. For the finals in the International Division it would be Gus Krider, representing the United States of America versus Makenna Laughlin, representing Canada. Makenna, from Peterborough, Ontario, was the 2010 Super Stock Division International Champion and moved up to the Masters Division for 2011. It was going to be a close race.
When the gate dropped Makenna, number 36, driving the purple car in lane one, picked up an early lead. Gus, number 29, driving the blue and yellow car in lane three, drove straight as an arrow beaming for the finish line. At the line, whichever kid crossed first would be the 2011 International Masters Division Champion.
At the finish it was Gus Krider who nosed across first, earning the 2011 International Masters Division Championship title for the United States of America!
Gus accepted his congratulations from his biggest sponsor, Grandma Cindy, who owns C.J. Fix Co. Bookkeeping and Tax Preparation in Napa, California.
We celebrated the American victory by taking our American made Ford Taurus SHO to Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell and home of the world’s greatest Cheese Steak sandwich at Geno’s.
Congratulations to all of the kids who participated in the All-American Soap Box Derby, especially those kids from Northern California (pictured above) who represented so well. A special congratulations goes out to Veronica Harris, who finished second in the All-American Soap Box Derby Super Stock Rally Division. Great driving Vern!