The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Racer wants a hometown victory
BY LIANA BAYNE
This is Zac Roe’s last chance.
The almost 6-foot-tall, 16-year-old Riverbend High School junior is coming to the end of his racing career.
Saturday will be his last chance to participate in the Fredericksburg Soap Box Derby that got him started, because racers in his competitive masters division need to be able to lie down straight in their 6-foot-long cars. Zac nearly doesn’t fit anymore.
Saturday is also his last chance to win the local derby. Even though Zac was ranked the fourth-best racer in the world last year, he’s never been able to win at home.
Once, in 2009, he lost by 0.036 of a second.
This year, he’s hoping to win. He’s one of eight racers competing in the masters division.
Zac’s love of soap box racing started at first sight. One random Saturday, Zac’s dad decided he wanted to go check out the annual Fredericksburg derby, which none of the Roe family had seen.
“My dad took me down there,” Zac recalled, “and I was just like, ‘I gotta do this.’”
Zac was 11. He went home, went on the Internet and two days later had drawn up a comprehensive plan for the time and financial requirements to participate in the next year’s derby.
“It was the most excited I had seen him in so long,” his mom, Stacy Roe, said. She decided to let him try it.
Soap box derby cars come in pieces in a kit. Racers have to assemble them.
Zac said when he and his dad opened his first car kit “we were both just like, ‘What do we do with this?’”
Stacy had noticed one of their neighbors in Ashleigh Park in Spotsylvania had a trailer marked “soap box derby” in his yard.
“We walked down there, and my husband just knocked on their door,” she said, to ask if the neighbor knew anything about how to put together Zac’s car.
It so happened the Roes’ neighbor was Alvin Staples, the Fredericksburg race director.
Staples happily obliged and helped the Roes put the car together.
The rest is history.
Zac became an avid racer. He races both in the local Fredericksburg derby as well as rally-style.
Rally involves traveling almost every weekend to different tracks in order to race. Rally racers race for points.
Zac has raced in the super stock and masters divisions rally-style. Masters, where the racer lies down inside the car, is his favorite.
There are two ways a racer can advance to the annual national competition at the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio: win a local derby, or get 180 points and four wins during the rally season.
And although trophies line the walls and fill the corners of the Roe house, he’s never won at home.
Zac did well enough in the past two rally seasons to go to Akron. There, 9th place and up receive trophies. Two years ago, Zac was fifth in the world, and last year he was fourth.
To place twice at Akron is unusual, Stacy said.
Zac races around Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He’s made friends at the races from all over the mid-Atlantic. So have his parents, who travel with him to haul the cars and to help him during races.
“Derbies are a lot of ‘hurry up and wait,’” Stacy said. “We all get to spend time together. The kids are always goofing around, the parents make friends. We have families we’ll stay friends with long after our kids have outgrown the derby.”
Zac said he likes having friends from all over. The friendships translate into good sportsmanship on the race track.
“It’s an environment where everyone is being friendly and respectful,” Zac said.
Staples said Zac, like many derby racers, is “a nice kid.”
“He’s friendly, helpful to younger racers, and he’s certainly not cocky,” Staples said.
With derby families the Roes see at rally races frequently, Stacy said it starts to feel like one big family.
“At a certain point, it doesn’t matter if it’s your kid or theirs, you’re just as happy that they won,” she said.
Zac knows he’ll be going to Akron again this year, regardless of whether he wins Saturday’s local derby. He racked up enough points and wins again this past rally season. The competition is on July 21.
Still, it would be nice to finally win at home before traveling to Akron.
“If he doesn’t win this, he will never have won his hometown,” Staples said. “It’s disappointing when you have success everywhere else but not at home.”
His last rally race was about two weeks ago.
Afterward, Stacy said, “he said, ‘Mom, I feel like somebody died.’”
The Roe family has spent almost every weekend between March and October for the past five years traveling to rally races, sometimes leaving their house at 4 a.m.
“It becomes a lifestyle, but it was worth every second,” Stacy said. “It’s time we’ll never have with our kids again.”
And after his racing career ends?
Zac, a rising 11th-grader, hopes to attend WyoTech, an automotive technical school, after graduation. Eventually, he wants to own his own auto body shop.
Zac and his mom aren’t sad about the inevitable transition out of racing.
“We’ve sacrificed things as a family to let Zac race,” she said. Racing can cost thousands of dollars in race car repairs; then there’s transportation and hotel rooms at the races.
“It’s been a challenge,” his mom said. “But I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: Fredericksburg Soap Box Derby
WHEN: Saturday, June 16. Racers gather at 7:30 a.m., opening ceremony at 8 a.m. and racing starts at 9 a.m.
WHERE: Along William Street, downtown Fredericksburg
INFO: fredericksburgsoap box.com
Liana Bayne: 540/374-5444