2 local youths compete on the world stage

Jael Gilbert, 8, shows how she inspected her car before racing in the First Energy All-American Soap Box Derby. Jael’s car is designed based off of Williamsport’s Trolleys and won her first place in design in her division. IOANNIS PASHAKIS/Sun-Gazette

Two Lycoming County youths raced down the Akron, Ohio, legendary Derby Downs race track last month after becoming the ninth champions of Williamsport’s branch of the worldwide event.

Each year the city participates in the derby, the first place winners from both the stock and super stock divisions win an opportunity to test their mettle against racers from around the world.

Jael Gilbert, 8, and Merideth McCahan, 14, bested 62 of their peers in the downhill race on Market Street in June and as Williamsport’s winners in their respective divisions, immediately began preparations to participate in the 81st annual First Energy All-American Soap Box Derby world championship in Akron, Ohio.

“People do their best to win, they build their cars and they practice at home,” Jim Campbell, race director for the city’s derby, said. “These two just really stuck out as people who were going to do their absolute best to win.”

Jael, the youngest driver in the city’s

races to move onto the championships, won first place in the stock division and Merideth crossed the finish line first in the super stock division.

“They did a great job driving,” Jim Campbell, race director for the city’s branch of the derby said. “That’s why they won. They paid attention throughout the day and made every trip important.”

Jael, Merideth and their parents arrived in Akron a week before the championship, which gave the girls the opportunity to meet the other racers and plenty of chances to race down the track to prepare for their races.

The kids had a parade held in their honor on the day they arrived in Akron and were invited to participate in events like a lock-in at the University of Akron and a build-and-battle race where racers had a chance to build and race classic soapbox derby cars. Merideth’s father, Jason McCahan, said the event felt similar to the Little League World Series.

“It was really cool. Everywhere you went people called you champ,” Merideth said. “I met a lot of the competitors and hung out with them for the rest of the week.”

Both Jael and Merideth lost in their divisions early on the day of the championship, both earning second place in their heats. Jael however took home a prize for her car, which she designed to look like a trolley.

Jael won first place in her division for the design, which she said she was inspired to do because her father works for River Valley Transit in the city.

“It’s my dad’s work,” Jael said, her father adding that he and a member of the soapbox derby committee helped make her design a reality.

“She worked very hard on the car,” he said.