30th Annual Soap Box Derby Set For Saturday

An annual event that has become a staple in the Jamestown area will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this weekend at Jamestown Community College’s Stadium Hill.

On Saturday, the 30th annual Jamestown Area Soap Box Derby will take place at the John S. Sinatra Memorial Derby track – featuring dozens of local racers vying for the title of derby champion.

Since it began in 1984, the Jamestown Area Soap Box Derby has bestowed young racers and their families with a teamwork mentality, from the construction of their own cars to the moment they cross the finish line. According to John Williams, who took over for Tony Purpura as director of the derby this year, the soap box derby is a unique, family-friendly event that even spectators can enjoy.

“I’d like to see people come down to the track and see gravity at its finest,” Williams said. “There’s no motors or anything, it’s all gravity. And the cars are winning by thousandths of a second, so that tells you how intense the racing is. And when you hear all these people cheering and clapping for these kids as they come down that hill – and seeing the kids at the top of the hill, smiling from ear to ear, as they’re getting ready to come down – that makes it all worth it to me.”

The derby was originally held on Baker Street, before being relocated to its current site adjacent to Russell Diethrick Park in 1998. Since that time, hundreds of local youths have traveled down the race track in a bid to become the fastest racer of the competition each year.

To commemorate the occasion, Williams said the racers will receive T-shirts bearing the names of all previous derby winners from the last 29 years in both the Stock and Super Stock divisions. He said 15 drivers will compete in the Stock Division and 12 will compete in the Super Stock Division for the 30th annual event.

The derby is also known for its family-oriented nature. Participants are generally required to by a car kit, and build their cars with family members – making the construction of each car a unique experience, and one that is conducive to cultivating quality time between parents and their children.

“It’s good family bonding time (for participants) because they get to spend quality time with their parents,” said Brian Hasson, a member of the Jamestown Area Soap Box Derby board of directors. “And parents get to have that one-on-one coaching session with their kids that they can’t get anywhere else. So that’s what makes the derby unique compared to other sports.”

New to this year will be the return of team cars to the derby. According to Hasson, the derby used to have a collection of team cars – sponsored by the Jamestown YMCA – available to participants who would otherwise be unable to participate in the derby, but that program has been defunct for several years now.

“When I participated in the derby as a kid, the YMCA had team cars that you could use if you couldn’t afford one,” Hasson said. “When I was 9, the soap box derby gave me a car, and I was able to use it for three years. There’s nobody to run a program like that anymore, so now, basically, you can’t participate if you don’t get a car or can’t get sponsored. I wanted to see if we could solve that problem.”

Hasson, who is also the owner of Rapid Moving & Storage in Falconer, said he has been able to locate a combination of six new and used stock cars for this year’s event.

“By next year, hopefully we’ll have more involvement with sponsors, and hopefully we can get some older cars donated that are still up to code,” he said, indicating that he hopes to have up to 15 team cars by next year’s event. “Now the derby will be able to grow, and we can be sure that we can keep people involved.”

A practice run will be held for participants at 4 p.m. Friday, with the actual event beginning the following morning at 9 a.m.

“This is an excellent opportunity for spectators to come down and good head-to-head racing,” Williams said.

The winners of each division in Saturday’s event will qualify for participation in the All-American Soap Box Derby championships, which will be held July 20-26 in Akron, Ohio.