All-American Soap Box Derby

The Greatest Amateur Racing
Event in the World

Imagine walking across a street and nearly being run over by a wooden crate atop a set of baby buggy wheels racing down a hill. That's just what happened to Myron E. "Scottie" Scott when he encountered three boys racing home-made, engine-less cars down an inclined brick street in Dayton, Ohio, back in 1933. 

As a news photographer for the Dayton Daily News, Scott was always ready for a scoop. Scott was known at the News for his creative thinking as much as for his photographic ability, and one of the best ideas of his life hit him at that moment, why not hold a coasting race and award a prize to the winner?

He told the boys to come back to the same hill with their friends a week later, and they could participate in a race with a "loving cup"- as it was called in Depression America-as a prize.

The week passed, and sure enough, 19 boys and 19 race cars showed up with an impressive crowd of onlookers. The first Soap Box Derby race was held on Hilltop Avenue, in Oakwood, Ohio (in suburban Dayton). When the race was expanded it was held on Burkhardt Avenue near Smithville Road in Dayton, Ohio.

One of the cars that did not win the first cup personified Scott's vision of a "Soap Box Derby" racer. Obviously handcrafted, it was painted black with a big white "7" on it, the racer had been built by Robert Gravett, son of a Dayton metal stamping plant employee. Scott took a picture of Gravett in his "Old No. 7.", as he christened it and that photo would become the symbol of the Derby for the next thirty-five years.

Sensing a hit, Scott talked to his boss and sold him on the idea of holding an official race. Soon Chevrolet®, along with the Firestone®, Goodyear®, Goodrich®, and General Tire® companies all joined to help sponsor the event.

On Saturday, August 19, 1933, 362 kids aged 6-16 showed up with homemade cars built of orange crates, sheet tin, wagon and baby-buggy wheels and almost everything of "junk value" to race with soap box racers they built themselves. No doubt one was actually made from a soap box, although there is no record of such a creation. The police and the Dayton Daily News estimated that there were 40,000 watchers along the hill. The kids raced. The crowd cheered. The All-American Soap Box Derby® was off.

More than 70 years latter, the Soap Boxes are still racing. Each summer, boys and girls from around the world gather at Derby Downs near Akron Municipal Airport Ohio to try to roll to victory. Who would have imagined that a near-accident would end up becoming, "The Greatest Amateur Racing Event in the World"?

 

While the All-American Soap Box Derby is only held once a year, you can find dozens of qualifying races all year long, all across the country. Why not visit them at AASBD.org and try to catch a race near you?

 

Sources:
Cracker Barrel Old County Store Travel Almanac 2005,
All-American Soap Box Derby website (www.aasbd.org), and
Dayton Sportscaster, Tom Hamlin.

Dayton Triangles main page

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Copyright © 2005