Soap Box Derby racers gearing up

When the Soap Box Derby race comes to Market Street Hill, on Market Street between Washington and Little League boulevards June 9, racers and organizers agree: The trick is to keep pointed straight.

“Don’t turn as much,” said Dillan Clayton, 12, of South Williamsport, when asked what lesson he would draw from last year. Dillan is in his second year of participation.

James Wertman, the 2015 superstock division champion, who is helping his brother this year as part of his “pit crew” said that is the first piece of advice he gives.

Barry Britton, who serves on the event’s steering committee, said steering costs the racers the speed necessary to win.

Britton said the clinics Saturday on Arch Street between Jaysburg and Newberry to build the cars start with an explanation of the program and then explanations of the cars and their brakes and alignment.

“You know,” Britton said. “Just various parts.”

The clinics then match the racers, ages 7 to 17, to their cars based on weight. The race is divided into two weight-based divisions. The stock division includes cars and drivers weighing 200 pounds. In the superstock division, a driver and his or her car weigh 240 pounds combined.

The base of the car has horseshoe weights and seat weights to even the competitors out. The steering column, brakes and body are then added above the weights. Each driver has a “pit crew” with a crew chief and usually two or three other family members or friends helping. Each car also is sponsored by an area business, so no racer has a more expensive car with better features.

“Everybody gets an equal chance,” Britton said.

This year’s race will include 32 drivers in each division. Past winners of the stock division are required to advance to the superstock division in future years. Winners of the superstock division compete in a special “master car” race. Winners in Williamsport’s Soap Box Derby race also advance to the national championship in Akron, Ohio, July 17.

“It’s a blast,” Britton said. “It’s really a blast.”

Thomas Wert Jr. said it’s the fourth year he has had children participate, but the first year his son Carter Wert, 7, has raced. He said the family always gets excited.

“It’s all fun,” Thomas Wert said. “They don’t even sit still.”

Carter’s grandfather, Bob Bacon agreed: They can’t go fast enough, he said.

Thomas Wert then asked Carter how excited he was on a scale of 1 to 10.

“Ten?” Thomas Wert asked. Carter nodded.

James Campbell has two daughters racing this year.

“The biggest thing is getting it squared up,” he said as he helped his older daughter, Mea, build her superstock car.

Race organizers said the next date on the Soap Box Derby schedule is impound day on June 2.

The race on June 9 begins with opening ceremonies at 8 a.m. and racing beginning at 9 a.m.