New racers make their mark at the Kiwanis clubs' 2nd Annual Soap Box Derby Race

Hannah Swayze • May 19, 2018 at 9:53 PM

Fourteen young racers under the age of 14 put their STEM skills to the test on Saturday, but only two came out on top.

The Kiwanis Clubs of both Erwin and Johnson City teamed up to host the Second Annual Soap Box Derby Race, beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing well into the afternoon with a crowd, including volunteers, of about 75 people on the campus of Borla Performance Industries. 

"This year we only have three return racers from last year, the rest are new racers. They had never been down the hill before, they'd never driven their car," Shannon Jones, president-elect of the Johnson City Kiwanis Cub, said.

How does Soap Box Derby work?

Each racer starts out with a car. Some are bought already put together from other racers and some racers order a kit to build their own.

The cars race in different divisions. The vehicles are classified as stock cars and superstock cars. There are no engines and the car gains momentum from the hill of the track and the weight of the car and driver.

The weekend before the derby, cars are inspected and weighed precisely.

"The premise is that weights have to be put in different spots in the cars," Jones said. "There are different rules. You can't have more than a 15-pound difference between tail weight and nose weight, and that's where the learning comes in — to figure out, as you grow with your car, where do you put your weights to get the best advantage to get down the hill faster?"

Does it get competitive?

In a race where the difference between first and second place could be mere fractions of a second, the competition could get pretty heated, but all the participants maintained good attitudes. 

One racer who was always seen with a smile, despite her standing in the bracket, was first-time racer Shelby Miller, 14.

"I'm like the loser of the losers," she said with a laugh.

Miller said she wasn't discouraged and she would encourage anyone who thought they wanted to compete in the Soapbox Derby.

"The hardest part is getting in the car because I'm so tall,” Miller said. "You just gotta find that one spot that fits."

What is the STEM aspect?

Between building the car and placing weights and finding out how to arrange the car with the driver's own weight, the Soap Box Derby requires a lot of technical skill.

Allen Stoner, Borla Performance Industries chief financial office, was a volunteer for Saturday’s race said that he thought it was a great event to get involved with because it provides opportunities for people to see kids get involved.

"We’re really hoping to get more kids excited about the sciences and engineering and math because we actually utilize those with our employees," Stoner said.

"The kids are getting in there and learning about the steering mechanisms and the braking mechanisms and aerodynamics and there's a lot to it, especially as they get into higher competitions. You're talking about winning by two-thousandths of a second, so it's really important that they learn physics."

Looking forward to growth

"We would love to see the entire parking lot completely full with tents all the way along the race track. We want to see next year, as we continue to grow, probably ... some food trucks. We want to see this be a community event," said Jones.

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