Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Testing the track during a Soap Box Derby trial run in Faribault June 11, 2012

Bales are strategically placed on corners/curves to keep racers on the track.

CROUCHED NEAR THE FIRST CURVE behind a buffer of straw bales, I wondered if this was the smartest spot in which to photograph Soap Box Derby cars skimming down the hill. Probably not, I decided, and tucked myself next to a utility pole. If need be, I could duck behind the post should a car propel toward me.

Saturday morning marked a trial run for kids and adults entering the fourth annual Faribault Heritage Days Soap Box Derby competition set for 9:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. this Saturday, June 16. Some 50 racers are expected to wind down three city streets near Peace Lutheran Church as they vie for honors in adult and youth divisions.

Yes, even adults, like Mayor John Jasinski, folded themselves into soap box cars during the trial runs this past Saturday, checking out the new course. The race was moved this year to a faster route, says  Jason Reher, Faribault Heritage Days board member.

Racers, their assistants and race organizers gathered at the top of a hill along a southern Faribault street for trial runs.

Reher and others were supervising the Saturday solo runs that allowed racers to get a feel for the course before they race in heats during the actual competition. Some drivers proceeded with trepidation while others drove as if they were already in it to win it.

And, yes, on one occasion, as a car took the outside lane on the first curve, I worried that I might need to leap out of the way.

This was my first experience viewing soap box car runs. I expect the actual race will be much more exciting and photographic.

Looks count. An award will be given for the the Best Looking Car in the Faribault race on Saturday.

So when and where did this whole gravity-propelled, racing-a-car-down-a-hill event began?

Dayton, Ohio, claims itself as the birthplace of the Soap Box Derby. In 1933, a photographer for the Dayton Daily News photographed several boys racing homemade, gravity-pull cars down a street. Myron E. Scottie was so intrigued by the idea that he asked the boys to return a week later with their friends for a race that would offer a prize cup.

Last-minute prep before a trial run of the Faribault Soap Box Derby route.

The concept took off and continues today with local champions in stock, super stock and masters divisions Soap Box Derby races from around the world converging on Akron, Ohio, each July to compete for scholarships and prizes in the All-American Soap Box Derby.

In only its fourth year, the Faribault race is certainly in its infancy. Organizer Reher noted, however, that he’d like to see the local event expanded to a circuit competition with neighboring Morristown and Northfield. Morristown’s races have been around longer at Morristown Dam Days while Northfield held its first Soap Box Derby last year during The Defeat of Jesse James Days.

A peek at the interior of the car which Ben will race on Saturday during the Faribault Heritage Days Soap Box Derby.

Since I’ve only attended the one trial run and not an actual race, I don’t know how competitive these racers get. But I saw the potential in 13-year-old Ben, driver of the blue M8Solutions car. He’s already racked up two first place finishes in Faribault, one in Morristown and one in Northfield. Mom Tina has also won with a second place finish in Morristown and a first place in Northfield.

I’d bet money on 7-year-old Curtis doing well in Saturday’s competition.

And then there’s little brother Curtis and his red, white and blue MsSolutions 7X racer with “Boo” (his nickname) spray painted on the nose… I’d bet my money on this seven-year-old.

FYI: For more information about the Faribault Soap Box Derby, click here.

For more information about the All-American Soap Box Derby, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling