Thirty-six children and their families from the greater Chicago area gathered in Forest Park at the Circle Avenue hilltop on Saturday, June 3 to participate in the official All American Local Soap Box Derby Race.
Sponsored by the Forest Park Kiwanis Club and hosted by the village, the race was open to boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 20 with their approved All American Soap Box Derby cars.
Since 1985, the All American Soap Box Derby organization has overseen the sanctioning of rally racing across the country. The Greater Chicago Soap Box Derby is the local chapter, which for the past three decades has included current and former racers joining forces to promote soap box car racing in the Chicago area.
Soap box cars come in three different sizes, including stock, superstock and masters and compete in both local and rally races. Local races, like the one in Forest Park, consist of racers specifically from the area surrounding Forest Park. Race cities conduct only one local race annually, with the winner of each division in a local race automatically qualifying to compete in the annual World Championship, held in July in Akron, Ohio.
The Greater Chicago chapter hosts several rally races throughout the year and two rally races in the fall, one in the winter and one in the spring. Rallies are two-day races held over a weekend and open to anyone with an approved racing car. Every racer who competes in a rally race earns points that help them qualify for the World Championship.
Woodstock resident and Greater Chicago chapter treasurer Tami Packard had two children racing in Forest Park’s event.
“My husband raced since he was a child, his brother is here with his granddaughter, and we have two kids racing today,” Packard said. “For us, it’s a good family sport. Even the people you race with and travel with you make good friends with.”
Packard said a majority of racers come from racing families.
“The organization has gone to malls and done a couple of Groupons to get new kids interested, but a lot of it is through word of mouth and friends and family,” she explained. “Today, people have walked by and asked how they could get involved.”
Tami’s brother-in-law, Mark Packard, a Rockford resident, volunteers with the Greater Chicago chapter and has been involved with soap box car racing for 45 years. He was also a hometown racing champion in Michigan in 1971.
For him, the family atmosphere of the sport is what has enticed him to stay involved for so many years.
“I am here with my granddaughter and while we got knocked out of the race today, I spend a lot of time with her getting the cars ready,” he said. “It’s a great bonding experience. There’s a lot of stuff you get out of it because you’re working together using tools and technology to make the car as fast as it can possibly be.”
Some racers at Saturday’s event only recently got into racing, including Damarrion White from Chicago, who got involved two years ago after hearing about the sport from his Boys and Girls “Off the Street” club.
“I just thought it sounded interesting so I wanted to be in it,” White said.
Nine-year-old Forest Park resident Ethan Sandusky has been racing for one year and originally tried it out after his dad suggested he try something new.
“My favorite part is going down the hill,” he said. “I like racing because you have to try to do the best you can to make sure your car is going fast enough.”