Girls dominate derby; 1934 Youngstown champ returns
By Jordan Cohen
Emily Knox, 8, emerged from her race car after her first downhill trial run at the Greater Youngstown Area Soap Box Derby eliminations on West Main Street — the first time she had ever raced with the car.
“It was kind of scary,” the Lords-town girl admitted, “but now I want it go faster.”
Emily was one of nearly 40 entrants, age 8 to 17, in Saturday’s eliminations. The winners of three divisions — stock, super stock and masters — advance to compete in the All-American Soap Box Derby Championships in Akron on July 23.
Other competitors also had their eyes on the prize and, like Emily, wanted their cars to pick up speed.
“I wish I could put a jetpack on the back of this,” said Liberty’s Keighan Griffith, 10, competing in the stock division with a car his uncle Mark Griffith helped build.
It was the first time for derby eliminations in Cortland. Last year’s races took place in Mineral Ridge, but concern about conflicts with construction led to the decision to move the races. The GYASD covers Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.
The course consisted of 1,200 feet of West Main Street divided in two lanes, with cones and pipe at track side and at the end of the course for protection, and a large visible digital timer at the finish line. The race cars, built from plastic and other components, resembled a Formula One competition in their styling, the myriad of colors and the display of sponsor labels on each car.
Most impressed by the cars, competition and turnout was 93-year-old John Fraser, the winner of the first Soap Box Derby race in Youngstown in 1934 when he was 17 — the first year of the national competition. Fraser said he is the last surviving competitor from the 1934 national derby championships in Dayton.
“It’s absolutely great,” said Fraser, now a resident of Copeland Oaks Village in Sebring, whose appearance Saturday drew loud applause from spectators on the sun-drenched course.
“There was no plastic when I raced, just actual soapboxes and orange crates that we used to make our cars,” he said. “We raced on Gypsy Lane [in Youngstown] and I think we went around 45 miles per hour.”
Andy Bowell Jr., local derby chapter president, said girls outnumbered the boys in Saturday’s competition 23-17.
“The girls have really picked it up over the last few years,” Bowell said.“That’s amazing when you consider girls weren’t permitted to race until 1971.”
One of those girls, Daisy Corso, 16, Boardman, who finished second last year, was back to compete in the masters division with a car that her father, Dominic, said took eight months to build. She has raced for the last five years. A super stock driver, Lacey Neri, 16, Niles, displayed a hot pink racer emblazoned with “Racey Lacey” on it.
Bowell said each driver competes in two races and the best average time moves on until the final elimination. He said that eleven first-time racers were permitted trial runs to get used to the feel of their cars on the track before the actual competition started.
Bowell praised the cooperation and turnout in Cortland, but said he hopes to move the local eliminations to a different location each year to keep all three counties involved.