Soap-Box Derby Days
My final car was the first of its kind, a "recliner" and started a revolution in soap box racer design. This was my own design with some inspiration from the Flash Gorden comic strip! No one had ever built a recliner before this. In the following years this design dominated the SBD and is still one of the kit designs.
The car was laminated from 32 layers of 1/4" masonite.
However, when we finished laminating the two halves and put them together for a test fit, my feet had grown several shoe sizes and I didn't fit!
I had to add 2" of height to the front end of the mathematically perfectly elliptical body!
Father and Son:Like many projects the boy was supposed build the car with his father's help. . My Dad insisted that I do all the work. He taught me how to do the layout, cut the boards, use chisel and plane, operate a lathe, drill and tap holes, paint with a spray gun and sand and polish paint. Building my cars seemed to take forever and went in spurts. But I did all the physical work. This was usually not the case with other father's and sons. The problem was most cars did not turn out like mine. Most of the parent built cars were what you imagined when you said "soap box" racer. . . They were long coffin like boxes on wheels.
Mine and a few of the parent built cars often lead to complaints of cheating since the racers were supposed to be built by the boys. There was an award for the 10 best built cars but it came with a caveat. Those in the 10 best had to take a test, making a sculptural piece from sawed and laminated pine boards with a quarter round shape at one end and coming to a point on the other. This was supposed to represent a section of the car. I was in the 10 best every year including the first.
The test was held in the local high school shop with race officials and parents attending - but they could only advise, not touch. I was 11 years old at the time.
I went home feeling good about having helped someone (I taught another boy more in a couple hours than his father had in years). It was a little sad knowing this boy and other had learned nothing from building their cars. Now I wonder what the officials would have done. Nobody failed the test - but many should have.
I still have my original test piece. A couple years later I made another out of chip board before building my third car to see how it carved. It worked OK but all the end grain is hard on tools and the surface ends up very porous. It has walked off. Maybe I will make another one day to have a pair.
VIDEO Soap Box Derby Documentary 1936
While this video was in the early days of the Derby it had not changed much when I was in it. The biggest changes when I raced (other than the clothes people wore) was the use of standard wheels and axles, maximum weight of 250 pounds, maximum length of 80 inches. The race we attended in Akron, OH in 1962 was very similar to the one in this film.
The modern Soap Box Derby has become so namby-pamby and controlled (all cars are kits put together like flat ship furniture - no cutting, sawing, drilling. . . ) that a world wide Illegal Gravity Racer Federation has sprung up with a no-holds bared approach. Its not for children as its illegal and dangerous. However, ONE of their rules is that brakes cannot be ground drag pads which is what the Official Soap Box Derby has always required and DO NOT WORK. . .
Since the rise of loosely organized almost no rules gravity racing more people have taken part in the sport in the past few decades than in the nearly 80 years of the official Soap Box Derby. Sponsors like Red Bull have run organized races and the X-Games have Extreme Gravity Racing. Gravity races are held world wide. A few localities have organized races where even very young children can take part. So while the AASBD has become the least competitive, lowest common denominator children's event . . . the rest of the world has found the FUN and creativity in the sport.
Copyright (c) 2000, 2015 Jock Dempsey