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Racers compete in rally



Published: Mon, April 11, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Sunday's event can help some kids gain a spot at the Akron derby in July.

MINERAL RIDGE -- It's hardly the vehicle a typical teenager craves.

First of all, there's room for only one person, and that's a squeeze. No CD player, no radio, not even air-conditioning or heat. No engine, either.

But Kimberly Eggleston loves her Pepto-Bismol pink racer.

Kimberly, 15, is a champion Soap Box Derby driver. She's been to Derby Downs in Akron five times. She came to the Mineral Ridge Rally this weekend with one goal in mind: collecting enough points to go back to Akron in July to compete in her last All-American Soap Box Derby.

Kimberly, who lives in Loveland, competes in the master's division of the Derby. That division usually is reserved for the most skilled and experienced drivers. It's also the division where drivers lie on their backs as they race. The first time you see their cars coast across the finish line, you'll probably do a double take -- it looks as if someone just set a hat on top of car. It takes a second look to realize there's a driver in there.

The road to Akron

There are two ways to get to Akron for the national competition. One is to enter and win a local race, such as the Youngstown Soap Box Derby in June. The second is what brought more than 60 competitors to Mineral Ridge on Saturday and Sunday -- a Soap Box Derby rally.

Kids collect points for wining various places in the rally; they need 180 to earn a place at Akron. As of Sunday, Kimberly needed fewer than 10 points to go back for the sixth time.

This will be her last time in Akron. Competitors are allowed to compete twice in each of three divisions: Stock, Super Stock and Master's. They can go once as a race champ and once as a rally champ. She's never won at Akron, but as her mother, Linda, points out, "At Akron, they say every kid is a champion. All 400 kids are champions. I think the kids get a little tired of it sometimes ... it's 'champs' all the time."

Kimberly's philosophical about the approaching end of her Soap Box Derby days; other activities are beginning to compete for her time, she says. Her father, Robert, isn't so upbeat.

"Oh yeah, I will miss it," Eggleston says. "I love this."

The Egglestons consider themselves a typical Derby family. They love coming to races and rallies; they even bought a motor home to travel in. While waiting for their daughter's race, they chat with other race parents. The faces are familiar because they see each at other rallies all year long.

Weighing in

Most Soap Box racers buy a kit to build their car from the All-American Soap Box Derby, or "Akron," as most race families call it. A kit to build a master's car costs about $500, plus the countless hours spent putting it together and getting it just right.

Kimberly's pink car has a daisy painted on the side along with a nickname: "Wild Thang." She got that name after she wrecked the car in her first race. Now, she's all focus, following her dad's instructions for the 30-second ride down the hill.

"I've got a theory on this, and some might disagree with me," Robert Eggleston says. "All the cars are the same. They're made from the same package, and they weigh the same. I think about 10 percent of this is the car. The rest is the driver. The driver makes the difference."

Cars in the master's division have to weigh exactly 255 pounds, including the driver. A few minutes before her race, her dad pushes her car onto the scale, and Kimberly climbs in. The scale reads 256.136, so Kimberly jumps out and Robert Eggleston pulls out his wrench. He has to remove a few weights on the floor of the car to hit the 255 mark. When that's done, Kimberly's car is loaded on a truck and taken with three other cars to the top of the hill.

Kimberly and her dad walk to the starting block; Linda Eggleston takes her customary spot just past the finish line.

While she's waiting for the race to start, she chats with another race mom, Lynne Gallaher from Beaver County, Pa. Gallaher's daughter Loralei also races in the master's division, in a purple and teal car with "Daddy's Nightmare" emblazoned on the side.

The moms are enjoying the warm day, but lamenting the fact that their daughters aren't wearing sunscreen. It's late morning and they'll be at the rally until dinnertime.

There's plenty of down time, but these moms don't mind. They'll grab a book, do needlework and visit with other race parents. It's just what they do, Lynne Eggleston says.

"See this button?" she asks, pointing to the yellow "Member of Derby-Aholics Anonymous" pin on her shirt. "I guess that's us. We love it. We've met friends all over the country. Derby families are great."




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