By Scott Morrison
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — The Anderson Soap Box Derby program got a shot in the arm recently from the city, just in time for today’s All-American Local race.
That shot came in the form of the City of Anderson re-paving the soap box derby track located at 2 N. Madison Avenue.
“This is the biggest thing that has happened for us in I don’t know how long,” derby director Rick Isom said. “Just this little shot in the arm will help us immensely.”
The track faced major issues in the area where racers brake their derby cars. The pavement had sunk over the years, creating dips toward the end of the track.
Derby cars stop when the driver puts a rubber plunger down under the car. The plunger scrapes the ground and slows the car down. While the cars can travel over almost any terrain, the dips posed a major problem for the plungers, breaking both them and entire cars and exposing drivers to danger.
“The biggest issue was safety,” Isom said. “This is really a turn in the right direction for us.”
Isom said the club has reached out to Anderson administrations in the past for help with the track, and this year the city and Mayor Kevin Smith were very receptive to the idea.
“Kudos to this administration,” Isom said. “The mayor was very interested to help us out and to do what the city could do. We need city involvement and then involvement from parents and kids in the area.”
Repairing the derby track fits in with Smith’s comprehensive plan for Anderson.
“The mayor’s office focuses on activities for kids and activities that bring kids and their families together,” spokeswoman Charlee Turner said. “The soap box derby program is an organization that aims to do that and improves the quality of life of the community.”
The track repairs are important for tomorrow’s racers, but could also enable Anderson to host a rally race in the fall. Isom said a rally race in Anderson could draw participants from around the Midwest, providing revenue for the club and for the city of Anderson.
While tomorrow’s All-American Local is the Indy 500 of soap box racing in Anderson, there are other regional races called rally races throughout the year. According to International Soap Box Derby, Inc. there are roughly 600 races throughout the year at 130 sanctioned cities. Seven new race cities were sanctioned this year, which is a positive sign for soap box derby on the national level.
“With anything that has been around for 76 years, there are ups and downs,” International Soap Box Derby director of marketing Bobby Dinkins said. “In general, I think we are on an upswing nationally. We are more excited now than we have been in the last few years.”
The local soap box derby is hoping it can rejoin that national upswing. Anderson is one of four charter cities for soap box derby, and has sent a champion to the national race every year dating back to 1934 with the exception of World War II. Despite this long history, the local soap box derby program has faced a recent decline fueled by financial struggles and dwindling interest.
“There is a rich tradition here, and we have been here since the beginning (of soap box derby),” Isom said. “I think there are some other cities in the same shape as we are.”
Because of the program’s financial restraints, it has been forced to cut the Masters Division, which was the original soap box derby division. Isom is hopeful that the program will be able to return that division in the future. This year’s derby will include the remaining two divisions, Stock and Super Stock, each featuring 12 racers.