SOAP BOX DERBY Children build hopes for local, national races

YOUNGSTOWN -- In just over two weeks, the Soap Box Derby racers will start rolling down Fifth Avenue.
Youngstown's Soap Box Derby is set for 8 a.m. June 25 in front of the stadium at Youngstown State University. The field this year includes 55 young racers who will glide homemade cars without engines in three divisions, all hoping for the chance to represent Youngstown at the 68th annual Soap Box Derby in Akron next month.
The final tally of 55 is fewer than the 75 competitors Youngstown race director Jim Postlethwait had hoped for, but it's still promising for a local race that is still springing back from a 27-year hiatus.
Youngstown's break from derby racing dovetails with a down time in the national race. Except for four years during World War II, the Akron race has been held every year since 1933, but in 1972 Chevrolet yanked its sponsorship. As a result, many local derbies folded, according to the national organization's Web site.
Youngstown resumed the race in 2000 and is trying to grow each year, said Postlethwait, 42, of Mineral Ridge.
Springing back
The Youngstown race attracts boys and girls from ages 8 to 17 from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. This year, the field includes 12 new drivers, Postlethwait said.
The event attracts a lot of people because it's family-oriented, he said. Kids build their cars with help from their parents, he said, and parents come to the track and watch them compete.
"A lot of people just drop their kids off at a ballpark or dance class or something," he said. "With this, you're really spending time with them. You see the kids and you see what it means to them and how much fun it is for them. It does take time and money, but it's worth it."
Devoting time and money
"I really had hoped for 75 this year," Postlethwait said, "but it's really hard to compete with things out there now. Plus, this is something that really involves the parents, and a lot of parents just don't have the time."
Cost is another factor that can keep the field low, he said. Entry fee for the race is $55. If parents volunteer for a two-hour shift at the race, $25 of the entry fee is refunded.
"We try to get them to help out, but most people just pay the full $55," Postlethwait said.
Racers also pay for and construct their own cars with kits they buy from national Soap Box Derby headquarters in Akron. The kits cost more than $400, not including shipping charges, according to the Soap Box Derby's Web site.

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