The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Soap box derby roars into downtown Fredericksburg
BY LIANA BAYNE
Saturday’s Rappahannock Regional Soap Box Derby seeks to combine classic family fun with a history lesson and the thrill of a race.
Traditionally one of the biggest local races in the country, 120 racers in four different divisions will vie for a chance to head to the national All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio.
The divisions are: stock, for ages 9–13; super stock, the lower level for ages 10–17; masters, for more experienced drivers ages 10–17; and super kids, for physically challenged children in any of the age categories.
Winners from each of the four race categories will get the opportunity to travel to the national event, where the top finishers receive a $5,000 scholarship.
FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
Jennifer Hellier, special events coordinator for the Fredericksburg Parks and Recreation department, said this is the first year there will be family-friendly activities at the top of the racing hill.
Various activities will include face painting, product demonstrations from Cox Media and a photo booth.
“We’ve had a lot of positive response that there’s other stuff,” Hellier said.
RACING THROUGH HISTORY
An additional new feature this year is an exhibit about the soap box derby that will be on display at the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center.
Christopher Uebelhor, the director of collections and exhibitions for the museum, said he got the idea for doing a derby show while trying to brainstorm something that would combine summer and family.
“Thrill on the Hill” will feature, among other items, the 1959 national championship car and a trophy from 1965. All of the items are relevant to local derby history.
Uebelhor expects to have at least six vintage soap box derby cars dating from 1957 through the mid-2000s. The cars will be suspended from the museum’s ceiling.
“It’ll be cool for people to see how the cars and the event itself have evolved,” he said.
The majority of the exhibit’s artifacts were donated by race director Alvin Staples, a self-proclaimed antiques collector. When he got involved with the derby 16 years ago, Staples started buying old championship cars and helmets, and branched out from there.
Staples now owns 25 championship cars in addition to many other cars. He said his intent has always been to have the pieces in a museum, so when Uebelhor pitched the idea for this year’s exhibit, he was on board immediately.
The “Thrill on the Hill” exhibit will open on race day. Visitors will be able to view the collection until Aug. 31.
Hellier said all racers will receive a coupon for free admission to the exhibit.
SOAP BOX DERBY ON THE BIG SCREEN
Interested in learning more about the soap box derby tradition?
Check out the movie “25 Hill,” which chronicles the history of derby racing in the U.S. The director and star Corbin Bernsen is selling the movie at local races to raise money for the All-American Soap Box Derby, the national organization based in Akron, Ohio.
“We got 100 copies to sell, and I would really like to sell all of them,” Staples said.
Staples acted as an extra in the movie filmed in Akron. Other area racers like Riverbend High School junior Zac Roe were featured in racing scenes.
Staples said there was a rumor Bernsen would attend this year’s derby. There’s also a rumor the CEO of the national organization might stop by Fredericksburg.
Roe, at almost 6 feet tall, won’t be able to compete in another race after this one, because he knows he won’t fit into his car. It’s a tight squeeze this year.
Although he’s placed at Akron twice—fourth in the world last year and fifth in the world the year before—Roe has never been able to win the local Fredericksburg derby. Once, he lost by only 0.036 of a second.
“I just want to go out there and try to win,” he said.
Roe competes in the masters division, which only has eight cars this year. This category is for advanced drivers, who lie down in their cars.
His younger brother is competing in super stock. Super stock and stock are the most popular, with 110 of the 120 racers being in one of those two categories.
Roe explained the derby races work in a bracket elimination system, similar to that used in the NCAA college basketball tournament.
Since the 120 racers have been waiting to fly down the hill at about 35 miles per hour for months, there’s sure to be excitement and tension on William Street.
PLANNING ON WATCHING?
Hellier thinks the soap box derby is something everyone should see at least once.
“I had never seen one before I started planning it last year,” she said. “If people have not seen it, they should.”
Hellier suggested arriving early to ensure a good parking space as well as a good spot to watch the race.
William Street will be closed from College Avenue to Washington Avenue from 5 a.m. until 5 p.m. on race day. Parking will only be available on side streets.
People are allowed to set up tents and chairs along both sides of the closed portion of William Street, Hellier said.
People who want to follow a specific racer can pick up a heat sheet that lists when each child will get the chance to go.
Hellier said that in the history of the race, it’s never been called off because of rain, just paused for short showers. If it does rain hard enough to cancel the derby, it will be rescheduled to the following day, Sunday, June 17.
Staples said he hopes spectators stick around for the final race of the day, which normally ends around 3 p.m.
“It’s lonely when nobody but parents are left at the end of the day for the awards,” Staples said. “So I hope people plan on spending several hours here.”
What: Rappahannock Regional Soap Box Derby
When: Saturday, June 16. Racers gather at 7:30 a.m.
Where: Along William Street, downtown Fredericksburg
Info: fredericksburgsoap box.com.
What: “Thrill on the Hill” exhibit
When: June 16 through Aug. 31
Where: Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center
Liana Bayne: 540/374-5444