Local Soap Box Derby Racers Compete for Spot in 75th Anniversary Race

A young girl rides by with a smile after crossing the finish line first in one of last weekend’s many heats.

by Beverly Amsler

Instead of staying indoors this summer and playing video games, some kids are on the track-race track, that is-competing for a world title.  The local Soap Box Derby competition was held Saturday at Roanoke County’s Walrond Park with 24 drivers-boys and girls-competing for two spots in the 75th Anniversary of the All American Soap Box Derby World Championship Race in Akron, Ohio next month.  One local winner will represent the Stock division, ages 7 to 13 and the other in Super Stock, ages 10 to 17.

Del Waldron is President of the Star City Soap Box Derby and says today’s cars are very different from those in the past. “When I raced they were made of wood, so you actually had to spend all winter to build it and then you got one shot down the track.  Now they come in kits.”

Inside each $540 kit is the hardware, a floorboard, the axels, and a red, white, or blue plastic shell.  Waldron says Super Stock drivers can paint their cars while the Stock division can be decorate theirs with stickers.

“You can actually take these cars – all the holes are already drilled in the floorboard and you have picture pages to [use] – and you can put them together in about 5 ½ hours,” said Waldron.

The weight limit for the Stock car and driver is 200 pounds and the aim is to get as close to that as possible.  In Super Stock, the weight limit is 240 pounds.

“All the cars are pretty much the same as far as the setup goes – the axels, the wheels, the steering.  We’ve taken wheel-swapping out of the picture, so somebody can get a hot set of wheels and just blow by everybody.  So now it comes down to the youngster and the track.”

Ten-and-a-half year old Brianna Waldron from Roanoke is a Stock car veteran.

“In the derby car, you want to try to get as low as possible, ‘cause it helps you pick up speed when you go down.  ‘Cause if you’re sittin’ up, that’ll just make you slow down.”

Ten-year-old Katelin Harris of Botetourt County reveals her winning strategy,   “Scootin’ your butt back and driving straight.”

She’s traveled to Hancock, Maryland, South Charleston, Culpepper, Florida, and Roanoke County to race.

Del Waldron says the Roanoke County site is unique because it’s dedicated solely for these cars.  He says other cities and towns use airport runways or streets. In fact, Roanoke County was one of only two tracks in the Commonwealth that has a dedicated track for this type of racing and the other one was just built in Culpepper.

Going to the races is a family affair for the Ben Lumsden family of Roanoke.  Ben and his wife, Michelle, have three boys, ages 8, 9, and 13 that they take to races throughout the East Coast and grandma sometimes goes along, too.  Michelle says it’s the second year of competition for her sons.

“It’s something to do with your kids.  It’s entertaining.  They enjoy it; we enjoy it.  We actually do the rally race and travel all over and have a good time.”

Their eldest son has earned enough points by winning or placing high enough in his races to secure a spot in Akron next month.

What does she hope they’ll remember from this experience in 10 or 20 years?

 “Hopefully they will remember the effort that their dad put into it to do something with them.  I hope they remember the fun times they have, especially with their dad.”

While the kids were taking a break Saturday, some of the adults tried their hand at driving.  Ben and Michelle competed against each other with their three sons cheering for Mom to beat Dad on the day before Father’s Day.  She did.