Amid Saturday morning cries of "hooray for gravity", the 8th Annual Los Angeles edition of the All-American Soap Box Derby went down in close proximity to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. While most of America's race fans were parked in front of their 42" flat panel televisions for some five-hour NASCAR pre-race
drivel show these guys were out racing and having a wicked good time. And even though we've seen plenty of equally entertaining drunken hipster versions of Soap Box Derby this was the real deal, with winners potentially moving onto the national Akron, Ohio meet in July.
Soap Box as we know it was discovered by one newspaper reporter Myron E. "Scottie" Scott. The idea of a series struck him as a good way to get some ink into the paper and some money into his pockets after Scottie spotted some aspiring hoons racing their motorless speeders down a hill. Using his camera and words along with some carrots in the form of prizes, Scottie started what came to be and is still known as the Greatest Amateur Racing Event in the World. Early race cars were actually made from wooden orange crates and presumably a soap box, even though no record of such a car exists.
Today's cars themselves are split into three categories. Stock, Super Stock, and Masters. Stock and Super Stock cars must be built with an official kit to make sure the field is level down to the last screw and wire. Masters cars are permitted a bit more leeway but must still conform to national series rules. The Stockers are pointed at both ends. The Super Stockers are more rounded, and the Masters cars are the most swoopy. Car and driver combined weights are 200 pounds for stock, 230 for Super and 255 for Masters.
All the cars run through tech at the beginning of the race to check for atomic reactors or other secret power sources. Each heat consists of two races with one run by each car in each lane. To prevent anyone from using some type of space-age bearings the wheels are swapped from car to car between each heat. You could start the race with some manner of superleggera wheels and sekrit flubber tire compound, but odds are good someone else would cross the finish line with them. Derby officials help reunite everyone with their wheels at the end of the race.
The local Kiwanis Club organized the event and got the Sheriffs to create a detour that blocked off the hill so the kids could turn gravity into velocity. With a pull of the lever these guys were off. By the time they got to the bottom of the hill speeds broke the 30 mph mark! Despite the best efforts at braking by some of the drivers, the Flintsones-style brake sometimes didn't do much good at speed reduction. Piling into the hay bales on the big end of the course made for some cone mowing drama. Even with a post wreck bruise or two, the kids looked like they were having a blast.
The Other Wheeled Sport in the Carolinas: Soapbox Racing [Internal]