City Soap Box Derby race rolls along

Watching Saturday’s Williamsport Soap Box Derby triggered happy memories for Bob Crain. Crain, 72, of Montoursville, participated in some of the early races in the city. He did pretty well in 1953, winning two races.

But on his third heat of the day, he encountered problems.

“I kept hitting the hay bales,” Crain said.

Then he struck a manhole, damaging his car. Needless to say, Crain had to drop out of competition and didn’t emerge as a winner.

And that’s the way it is for the soap box derby – even today.

On Saturday, just two overall winners emerged following the daylong competition.

The two first place finishers, Jack Fink, Williamsport, stock division, and Joey LaRose, Muncy, super stock division, earn the chance to go on to Akron for the All-American Soap Box Derby, July 23.

Second place finishers were Audrey Edwards, stock division, and Cyza Matthews, super stock division. Stock division included racers ages 7 to 13 and super stock ages 10 to 17. Spectators lined Market Street from the top of the hill near Brandon Park to watch the races featuring drivers competing in a double-elimination format.

A total of 58 kids participated in the competition – the same number as last year, race director Jim Campbell said.

“We had a great turnout,” he said. “The kids are having fun.”

Campbell said few changes were made this year, save for making the course a bit safer for the participants.

Chief sponsors of the event include the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, Backyard Broadcasting, Kiwanis Club of Williamsport, and Pennsylvania College of Technology. In addition, local businesses sponsor each race car.

Opening ceremonies at 8:30 a.m. included remarks from Williamsport Mayor Gabriel J. Campana; U.S Rep. Tom Marino, R-Cogan Station and state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township.

Michael Barclay, a member of the Soap Box Derby steering committee, introduced each of the participants. Just prior to the race, he deemed the day on and for everyone to “have fun.”

“It’s a great community event,” he said.

The Soap Box Derby was held in the city between 1940 and 1954 before being revived in 2011. Campbell said 17 communities in the state now hold soap box derbies. Crain said it was quite an experience competing in the soap box derbies more than 50 years ago. Things were a little different too.

“We raced farther down the hill,” he said.

He also remembered each of the cars starting from a ramp to gain extra speed. Each car had a unique look those earlier times. He recalled building his own car from scratch as parents weren’t allowed to help.

“You were on the honor system,” he said.

As he looked out on Market Street, he recalled how it was lined with people back in the day.

“It was a big deal in Williamsport,” he said.