All-American Soap Box Derby

79th FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby
Flickr/FirstEnergy Corp.

The All-American Soap Box Derby is an annual event held in late July or early August at Akron's Derby Downs race track. The event, begun in 1934, allows boys and girls ages 8 to 17 to compete in homemade, non-motorized cars for scholarships and other prizes. The race event is surrounded by a week full of activities, including a parade, a rally, and celebrity appearances.

Soap Box Derby History

The Soap Box Derby was started in 1934 in Dayton, Ohio by a group of friends who constructed racing cars from scraps of lumber. The fledgling race moved to Akron in 1935, attracted by the hilly terrain and the WPA project, Derby Downs. The race attracted the attention of car manufacturer Chevrolet, who sponsored the race from 1935 until 1972 and started the tradition of offering scholarships as prizes.

In its heyday, during the 1950s and 1960s, the Soap Box Derby drew up to 70,000 spectators. The race struggled during the 1970s after Chevrolet pulled out, but has rebounded with new sponsors including Goodyear, Novar Electronics, and Levi Strauss.

The current race includes both boys and girls and draws more than 500 entrants from 43 states and 3 countries. Qualifying races are held throughout the United States and overseas.

The Three Divisions of the Soap Box Derby

The Soap Box Derby is actually three races, one in each of three divisions. The races are held at the 954-foot long Derby Downs track, a three-lane, straight downhill track. Divisions include the Stock Division, Super-Stock Division, and Master Division, each with their own restrictions.

The Stock Division is open to boys and girls 8 to 14 years old, weighing up to 110 pounds. This is the easiest division and features cars made from a ready-to-assemble kit. The Super-Stock Division features boys and girls 10 to 17 years old, weighing up to 150 pounds. Minor modifications, including paint, are allowed in these cars. The Master Division features custom cars, driven by boys and girls 10 to 17 years old, weighing up to 170 pounds.

Race Week Events

The Soap Box Derby race week includes a myriad of activities for racers and their families as well as spectators. In addition to the races, there is a parade featuring the drivers and their cars, a rally, clinics, time trials, celebrity appearances, and side-trips to such attractions as an Akron Aeros baseball game. Past celebrities in attendance have included Jimmy Stewart, Tom Hanks, and President Ronald Reagan.