By Jack King: CNJ Staff Writer
Seventeen Clovis youngsters are signed up to race in this year’s Clovis Soap Box Derby, sponsored by the Clovis Rotary Club.
The winner of Clovis’ “Gravity Grande Prix” will join more than 400 other young racers for the 67th running of the American Soap Box Derby at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio, on July 31, said Larry Erwin, head of the Rotary Club Committee that oversees the local derby.
Clovis’ racers will compete starting at 10 a.m. Saturday on Sycamore Street between Yucca Junior High School and 14th Street, Erwin said.
Clovis doesn’t exactly have a hill for the gravity-powered race cars to run down, Erwin said. Instead, organizers use two flat-top tow trucks on which a starting ramp is mounted.
“In Akron, we’re known as the city so flat that it built its own hill,” Erwin joked at the city commission meeting last week. But he defended Clovis’ geography Wednesday.
“We get up to between 18 and 20 miles per hour. That’s faster than in Detroit. In Detroit, they say the cars go so slowly you can walk beside them,” he said.
Over one million young people have participated in the derby, since it was born in the imagination of a Dayton, Ohio, news photographer in 1933.
In the early days, racers were required to build the cars themselves, with no help from adults and materials included orange crates, sheet tin, wagon and baby-buggy wheels, though, according to the derby’s Web site, there’s no record of anyone actually using a soap box.
Today the cars are made from standardized kits and young builders can get help from parents and friends.
Lucinda Fritz, a sixth-grader at Highland Elementary School last year when she won the Clovis contest and went to Akron, said her mom, dad and friends, along with the staff of her sponsor, Taco Box, helped build her car.
Contestants arrive in Akron the week before the competition and get a grand tour of the area, including trips to sites that include the Pro Football Hall of Fame in nearby Canton, Ohio and an Akron Arrows baseball game, Erwin said.
Fritz said her favorite spot to tour was the area Six Flags.
She said the competition was hard work, but fun. The best advice she could give future winners is “be prepared for whatever you’ll have to do.”
The day she raced it rained, but, unlike the situation in some motorized car races, that didn’t stop the competition.
“It wasn’t really scary. It was exciting. We got to work in the rain and we got really wet,” she said.
Winners’ prizes include college scholarships and trophies awarded by sponsors that include Home Depot and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. Fritz said her favorite part of the competition was the friends she made.
“Some were staying in the same hotel and some I met on the track. We just started talking to each other,” she said.
“One of my friends that I made up there won the race against me,” she said.