The Soap Box Derby began in 1933 when Myron Scott, a photographer from a local Dayton, Ohio, newspaper, saw kids racing downhill in homemade cars without engines. He asked the boys to come back a week later to participate in a race. The 19 boys came back and raced, but Scott decided he wanted something even bigger and better.
On August 19, 1933, 362 kids showed up to race. They had cars made out of orange crates, tins, wagons—almost anything they could think of. About 40,000 people watched the event and cheered on the racers. And the next year, in 1934, the Soap Box Derby became a national event.
"This year is the 67th All-American Soap Box Derby. I started volunteering at the 25th All-American Derby and I hope to see the 100th," said Jeff Iula, general manager and historian for the All-American Soap Box Derby.
Iula raced in the 1966 national derby. He admits that a lot has changed since then. In the 1960s, kids scraped together $30 to buy wood to make a car. Today, kids get sponsors to donate hundreds of dollars, and then they buy a kit to build a car.
The Track to the Big Race
You'll need a lot more than a kit and a sponsor to race in the national event. First, you have to build a car. There are different types of cars for different race divisions. A stock or super-stock division car will take you about 4-6 hours to build. But if you're up for a challenge, a master's division car will take about 40 hours to build.
"The hardest part about racing is building the cars," said 15-year-old Corey Harkins, winner of the 2003 super-stock racing division.
Iula said in the 1960s, kids started making their cars right after Thanksgiving to race it a few months later. Today kids buy kits to build cars and race the next month. "Everything in America is different than it was in the 1960s. They want it quicker now," Iula said.
There are two ways to make it to the national competition. Local races are held in about 165 places throughout the country. The winners of those races compete in the All-American Soap Box Derby.
Some kids don't compete in local races. They race in rallies. At rallies, points are given for winning different places in the race. Kids become rally champs if they have enough points. Only then can they compete in Akron.
The Finish Line
Harkins admits that the national race is more difficult than the local ones. "Everyone of those drivers won a local race. A lot more people are watching," he said.
When Harkins won in 2003, he won a $5,000 scholarship, a trophy, a jacket, tools, and more.
Although Harkins raced about 40 years after Iula, both agree that one of the best parts about racing is the people you meet.
Iula also likes how racing is a family activity that spans generations. He worked with his dad on cars when he was young. Now, Iula is a father and one of his daughters races. "A lot of kids race because their dads raced, or their moms raced," Iula said. (Girls have participated in the Soap Box Derby for 31 years.)
If you want to be part of what Iula calls the greatest thrill of his life, visit the All-American's Soap Box Derby Web site to get started!