Local soap box derby racer returns from the world championships
Jun 05, 2023
The secret to soap box derby racing: You have to become one with the car.
That’s advice from Jude Krebs who recently returned from the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby World Championship at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio.
This past spring, the 11-year-old won first place at the Ocala Soap Box Derby, qualifying him for the championship.
“Last year, a friend from Cub Scouts told me about it (soap box derby racing), and I thought it would be a new experience for me,” Jude said. “So, I tried it and I liked it.
“It’s fun, and I think a lot of people would like to try it. It’s different from other types of racing because you have no engine – it’s just gravity.”
In 1933, Myron Scott, a photographer for the Dayton Daily News, was taking photos of three boys, each sitting in a crate-like frame fixed to baby-buggy wheels, rolling down a bumpy hill in Dayton, Ohio.
He noticed the cars were made from soap crates, so he came up with the term “soap box derby.”
Today, kids and adults compete in derby races all over the nation and the world, although fiberglass and plastic have replaced wooden soap crates.
However, the basic concept hasn’t changed.
You and your car go to the top of a hill and then you go down – as fast as you can.
“It’s all about aerodynamics,” Jude said. “You go faster if you lean forward.”
The inside of the car, the cockpit, is often lined with foam to fill up the spaces between the car and the racer’s body, “becoming one with your car.”
“You need to keep your head down, put your nose on the foam, but you have to still be able to see the track so you can stay in your lane,” Jude said. “You want the air current to go over you instead of around you inside the car; that slows you down.”
He said his favorite part is feeling the wind on his face.
Depending on the track, the height of the hill and the condition of the pavement, Jude said he can go 26-28 mph, sometimes 30-32.
“Sometimes you have an issue where your axle is bent, so you have to give it a little nudge because if you go too hard or too fast you could flip and hurt yourself,” he said. “Also, if you get out of your lane or hit a guardrail, it’s a one-second penalty.”
With some races lasting less than 30 seconds, every second counts.
Jude said he came in sixth place in his first race.
“My first time, I was nervous because I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “But I learned a lot pretty quickly, and it was actually really fun.
“The race where I won and that got me to Ohio, I didn’t want to race that day, but there was a space and they needed someone to race. I had nothing else going on that weekend, so I said sure, and I won.”
But he lost his first race in Ohio, even though he tied for second place.
“I was a little aggravated that I didn’t get to move on, but I don’t really mind it,” he said. “I might be able to go up there again to try and win.”
He said he and his family made it a family vacation and visited his grandparents and an uncle, and he got to see Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and Niagara Falls.
“Some of the people I raced against were five- or 10-time champions, but some were new like me,” he said. “I met one who lives in Orlando … and it wasn’t just all racing. You get to go to the trading center and trade things with people, like pins or tags.
“My sponsor is PDQ and I got some little foam chickens that are pretty cute that I could trade, and I got a really cool bracelet.”
As for continuing, Jude said he definitely will.
“I think soap box racing gives me excitement,” he said, “and more confidence that I’ll do better next time.”
Nancy Kennedy can be reached at 352-564-2927 or by email at [email protected].