The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Soap Box Derby: ‘It’s just good, clean fun’
BY LIANA BAYNE
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Michael Lohr and Bobby “Boo” Ulrich III are used to being neck-and-neck when it comes to racing in the Fredericksburg Soap Box Derby.
Last year, in the semi-final run down William Street in the Super Stock division, Michael edged out his buddy by a mere 0.001 second.
Both 15-year-olds made it to the finals this year, but time was on Bobby’s side. The Spotsylvania racer beat Michael by 0.003 second to win the Super Stock division on Saturday.
“Bobby and Michael are both racers to the core,” said race director Alvin Staples. “Bobby beating Michael by 0.003, that’s as close as you’re going to get.”
Bobby will head to Akron, Ohio, in July to compete at the national level in the All-American Soap Box Derby.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I had no idea I’d win.”
He’ll be joined by three other local racers who won their divisions by the tiniest of margins.
Jacob Polcha, 10, of Stafford, won the Stock division by 0.080 second. Kirsten Haynes, 16, of Spotsylvania, took the Masters division by 0.096 second. And Tyler Fry, 13, of Stafford, won the Super Kids class by 3.560 seconds.
The winners edged out 116 other racers, ranging in age from 9 to 17, who competed in four divisions: Stock, for younger, smaller racers; Super Stock, for older, bigger racers; Masters, for advanced older racers; and Super Kids, for physically challenged racers. The event was held annually along William Street from 1951 to 1972, and it started up again in 1997.
“I believe this was the best race we ever had,” Staples declared while helping clean up at the end of the day.
“Nobody got hurt or had a bad attitude,” he said.
SMILES ALL AROUND
Cars began rolling down the hill between College and Washington avenues at about 8:30 a.m. Racers, who were all sponsored by a local company or organization, went down in pairs, two times for each pair, and moved on in a bracket-style of elimination.
“I feel good about it,” said Jacob, the Stock division winner and a second-year veteran. “I got a lot of support from my parents and my sponsor.”
It was also Tyler Fry’s second year of racing. Tyler, who was featured in The Free Lance–Star last year, has muscular dystrophy.
Last year he was able to race his own stock car, but this year, because he’s lost strength in his arm muscles, he wasn’t able to control the car himself.
Super Kids is a division of soap box derby racing for physically challenged children, who sit next to a driver in the car. It is always held at the national competition in Akron, Ohio, but this is the first year it has been featured in Fredericksburg.
Heather Burgess, who won the master’s division in 2009 and has competed in Akron three times, helped Tyler pilot his car to victory.
“Racing Super Kids was incredible,” Staples said. “The crowd loved it, [and] both boys couldn’t get the smiles off their faces.”
Tyler said he’s very excited to head to Ohio for the national race. His mom, Nicki Fry, said race organizers there would provide a car and driver for her son.
AKRON IS THE GOAL
Masters division winner Kirsten Haynes said this was her third year racing. She wasn’t expecting to win because last year she lost in the first round.
“I was shocked,” she said, when she learned of her victory.
Kirsten has raced Super Stock rally and Masters rally races, where competitors pay to enter multiple races in different states in order to compete for points.
With enough points, racers can advance to Akron even if they don’t win their local derby. That’s what Zac Roe, a Masters racer who was featured in Friday’s Free Lance–Star, did.
Even though Zac got knocked out of Saturday’s Masters round, he’ll still head to Akron in July because he racked up enough rally points over the past season.
‘IT TAKES HEART’
Saturday’s race took over William Street, with parents and spectators lining both sides of the road while family activities kept others entertained in the parking lot at the corner of Sunken Road and William Street.
Staples believes the weather, with temperatures climbing no higher than 85 degrees with low humidity and no precipitation, was a big factor in how well the race went for drivers and spectators alike.
In the activity area, children could get their faces painted or take pictures with silly dress-up items in a photo booth. The hill was buzzing with happy activity. Children who lived nearby sold lemonade and cookies, and people who own houses on William Street sat on rocking chairs on their porches, enjoying the day.
The derby is a family affair, which was obvious on Saturday. Moms and dads socialized and helped their kids with their cars. Many families sat together, cheering for one another’s children. Siblings often raced together, too.
“It’s just good, clean fun,” Staples said. “Old American style. And it’s a family thing, spending time with the kids.”
An American thing that teaches American values, like kids believing they can do anything.
“It takes heart,” Kirsten said. “If you can believe it, you can win it. So what I’ve learned from racing is, don’t not believe in yourself.”
Liana Bayne: 540/374-5444