Well, it's appropriate that I crashed an event where there can actually be crashing. It was the Soap Box Derby Races in La Mesa.The Soap Box Derby is a youth racing program that has been going nationally since 1934, and has gone on every year since (with the exception of during World War II). It started in Dayton, Ohio, and that's where the national championships are still held.
There were 35 kids participating in this race on the street at La Mesa Middle School. Conveniently, there are no houses on this street and it has a downgrade hill.
The Kiwanis Club of La Mesa puts on this event, and they get a few companies to sponsor, most notably Drew Ford, which has trailers attached to its trucks. They bring the race cars back up to the top of the hill.
I wondered why all the cars' shapes looked the same. One father told me, "They are built from a $500 kit, so they are all the same kit. There are different weight classes. One is a total weight of 200 pounds. That includes the driver inside. There's also the 'super stock' which is 230, and the 'masters' which is 255 pounds. The masters is for the oldest kids, 11 to 17 years old. And sometimes you see weights being put inside because the car was too light."
That reminded me of the wrestlers at my high school. When we'd be finishing basketball practice and they had a weigh-in before a match, they would be spitting into cups, and have all their clothes off, even their underwear, just to make sure they'd make their weight. (Note to self: find out how much spit weighs.)
I loved the paint jobs some kids had on their cars. One girl had painted hers like a ladybug. A few had flames painted on the sides. One said "Hot Rod Lincoln." I didn't know if that was for the local band of that name, or the old Commander Cody song. Another car was painted white, and the kid had written graffiti on it. The most elaborate paint job had horses and lightning bolts all over it.
One had sponsors' stickers all over. I found out from someone else that the kids can get sponsors to pay for their kits. I laughed. I have no problem buying Thin Mints or some Christmas wrapping paper from the kids who come to my door, but giving them a hundred bucks to have a sticker slapped on the side of the car...
It did make the car look more like professional race cars, which have sponsorships splashed all over. One father told me about a girl named Laura who is a dwarf and has lots of businesses sponsoring her. He said, "She's a great girl. And I think this is a sport where her size works in her favor."
After one kid won his race, I asked how he got his car to go so fast. He said, "I think I just got lucky. My dad just says to keep my head down, so there's less wind resistance. And you try to keep your car going straight."
I asked one of the announcers -- yes, they have announcers and even a guy waving a checkered flag -- if adults are allowed to help the kids build the cars. He said, "Oh yeah, of course. We don't expect the kids to build these. We like to have the parents working with their kids. They learn about aerodynamics and weight distribution."
I thought it was interesting watching the parents lined up on the street. Some were standing, clapping, and yelling out words of encouragement. Others were sitting in chairs with umbrellas and eating snacks. After one race, a bigger guy had his arms around his daughter. She looked to be about 12 and she was crying. He put his forehead against hers and was saying, "You did great. Why are you upset? It was a good race. He only beat you by a little bit." As he had his arms around her, the little sister came running up and hugged them both. I started bawling like a baby.
It's not just the boys beating the girls in this event. I heard two African-American boys at the bottom of the hill. They looked to be about nine years old, and one said, "Yeah, that girl dusted me. I'm going to come back strong in the next race. It was fun." Wow. If all kids could be that gracious in defeat.
The races only take about five seconds to complete. I heard somebody say the top speed was 22 mph. Although, with a vehicle that's only three inches from the ground, it seems faster.
When I worked in radio, my morning show partner and I turned a casket into a go-kart. A guy was selling caskets he had made himself, because he was angry that funeral parlors charge so much. For $29.99, we had to get one. A listener suggested we put wheels on it, and a spoiler in back. We called it the Roadkill Rocket and took it down Scripps Poway Parkway before it opened, and crashed bad. We decided to use helmets the next time we did it in front of listeners.
They were prepared for accidents here. There were haystacks by all the curbs and at the end of the street. The only crash I did see involved a kid skateboarding near the refreshment stand on the steps of the school.
This event was entertaining. The announcers once said they'd found a watch, and that usually they sell stuff they find on eBay, but decided to see if they could find the owner first this time.
One grandfather was telling me he and his grandson were new to the event. He seemed so proud telling me about their car.
I glanced around near the hamburger stand before leaving. These twin sisters, the Osbournes, were talking shop with another racer. One lady said, "It's chilly." And her friend said, "No, we don't have chili. Just hamburgers and hot dogs." Ah. Refreshment stand humor.