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


29 Responses to “Testing the track during a Soap Box Derby trial run in Faribault”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    Soap box derbys(sp?) are the best!!! We have one during our Houston Hoedown Days the 4th weekend in July each year. The competition, and adrenalin, is felt in the air by young and old!! Hope you get some great pics!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Now Houston Hoedown Days sounds like a fun event. Just the name of your celebration appeals to me. I don’t think I will make it to the actual Soap Box Derby, which is one of the reasons I attended the trial runs.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        Our celebration grew out of the 100th town anniversary held over July 4th in 1974. Back then it was a very family centered event held in the city park. Changing it to the current format in ’77, with the change to the last weekend, added another dimension and more activities…tractor/horse pulls and a major beer/liquor focus. That last part is sad. There are many who are working each year to keep at least some of the event focused in the park. The soap box derby is part of this effort. Statewide, the event is in the top 10 of summer events, although around here it is known as one huge drinking party!! Sad!!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        How unfortunate that your small-town celebration seems to focus more on the drinking aspect. But kudos for those trying to retain some of the original focus.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        Some of us feel that those activities in the park and such things as pedal tractor pull, soapbox derby, etc, reflect the feelings of the town’s people who really want to preserve the ‘small town’. The other is supported by those who only see $$$$$ at any cost. Almost a battle of ‘good vs evil’/light vs darkness’. It is a disappointing reality but we keep on keeping on!-)

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Stay strong.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        Will do! Really, there is a lot at stake. Have worn out a lot of good people over the years. Kinda sad.

  2. ceciliag Says:

    You guys have the BEST events over there.. how fantastic, i have never seen one of these either! c

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, C., I bet if you look around, you’ll find great events in your area, too. The auto parts store my husband works for is a co-sponsor of the Soap Box Derby coming up in September in neighboring Northfield.

  3. Ouu how cute! Were there ever any cars approaching you?


    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yes, one car took the outside of the curve near enough to make me move into a safer location.

  4. Too funny — yeah, potentially not the safest of recreational activities…and that’s the photographing, not just the racing!


  5. How fun. I was raised in Mankato and Lake Crystal, but have lived out of state for over thirty years. The last time I’d heard of the soap-box derby must be at least a decade ago. Very cool that it is still going strong. Congrats on being freshly pressed.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, re. FreshlyPressed. I am honored to be selected. And welcome to Minnesota Prairie Roots. Return again and catch up on what’s happening in your home state.

  6. There was a great event over the weekend here in Atlanta.. Red Bull Soapbox Derby Race Atlanta 2012. We don’t know much about it, but it sure looks like a lot of fun.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Apparently the Soap Box Derby thing is world-wide. Good to hear you have such an event in Atlanta; you should try to attend. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. nazarioartpainting Says:

    Look really really fun. Remind me my brother when he was a child and played with car.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It looks fun, if you’re brave, I say. Those cars pick up quite a bit of speed going down those hills.

  8. John Says:

    Great post, I was thinking about entering one in my village this year, this post has made me decide to go for it! By the way I’m from England so Soapbox racing really is worldwide!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well, then John from England, I’m happy to have persuaded you to enter your local Soap Box Derby.

  9. triptracker Says:

    I didn’t know these were still raced. I have an old photo of my uncle in one when he was a child

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yes, I was surprised, too, by the popularity of Soap Box Derby racing. Perhaps it’s one of those nostalgic events that’s making a real comeback.

  10. I’ve always wanted to try this, however don’t think the concept has made it to South Africa quite yet!

  11. paddyro Says:

    Congratulations Audrey, your posts are always filled with solid local interest Patrick

  12. How fun! So small-town in the big city! (at least compared to Wgtn, it’s big…not to mention Bigelow!)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yes, it was fun to watch the test runs. Unfortunately, we were out of town during the actual race. I do so appreciate these events with a small-town flavor. And, yes, I would consider Faribault a big city compared to Worthington and, especially, Bigelow.

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