The first time was the charm for Gunnar Whorton Saturday.
The Culpeper Middle School sixth grader won the Piedmont Area Soap Box Derby Gravity Team Challenge in his first race ever Saturday at Paul Bates Raceway.
The Gravity Team Challenge pitted seven Culpeper County Public School teams and three Kid Central teams against each other. The teams worked on the Soap Box Derby car during after school activities and then raced them Saturday morning.
Whorton was one of two drivers from Culpeper Middle School, and he moved up through the consolation bracket to defeat Kid Central’s Maximus Douglas in the Super Stock finals.
What was the secret to his success?
“Stay low and stay straight,” Whorton said. “My team, every time I’d go down they’d yell as loud as they can. They told me to stay positive.”
Whorton said he and his family watched the derby last year and that led him to want to join the after school program.
“We came out to the dump one day, and we watched it and it was great,” Whorton said. “I heard about the school having a team so I wanted to do it.”
Sheila Rutherford, Piedmont Area Soap Box Derby Race Director, said that is one of the goals of the Gravity Challenge, is to get students interested in the Piedmont Area Soap Box Derby. The annual race will be held June 15.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the kids to get involved,” Rutherford said. “A lot of times they aren’t given the opportunity so coming through the school system they get the chance (to race).”
Whorton signed up earlier in the day to compete in the June race.
Several other drivers, including Abby Rice and Matt Harmon - who finished second and third respectively in the stock division - also signed up to race in June.
“It helps it dramatically,” Rutherford said. “When we raced on Blue Ridge Ave., because the road was closed for the day a lot of the community learned about the derby that way. Now we are blessed with our own track but it does take away our visibility, so this helps get it that visibility back.”
Emerald Hill Elementary School ITRT teacher Brian Foster said his team loved working on the car.
“We were all learning together and it was definitely an experience trying to figure out all the little parts,” Foster said. “We got to learn all about different tools, I learned more about different nuts and bolts that I didn’t know existed. We learned a lot of patience, we learned a lot of perseverance. We’d do something and two steps later have to go back and do it all over again.”
EHE fifth grader Allison Cesontos said she loves to build and that’s what drew her to the derby program.
“When we are in the classroom, we learn about math and all of those subjects but this helps us more with what we might do in the future,” Cesontos said. “One of us might become an engineer, this can help set us on the path to that.”
Cesontos said she loved going down the hill.
“At first I was really nervous, after I did it a couple of times I wanted to do it again,” Cesontos said. “It felt exhilarating.”
Culpeper County High School’s team won first place, defeating Eastern View High School. Longtime derby driver Alicia Tyler was at the wheel for CCHS and she extolled the virtues of racing in the derby.
“It’s mainly how fun it is and how social you can be with others around you,” Tyler said. “I told them (other students) that if you try it, you’ll fall in love with it.”
“We’re always looking for different ways for other students in our school to feel included,” CCHS ITRT teacher Cathy Uribe said. “We’re starting with some E-games, so we’re making sure there’s a place for everyone at CCHS.”
Pearl Sample fifth grader Danae Fitzgerald won first place in the stock division in her second year racing in the Gravity Challenge.
“It’s really fun,” Fitzgerald said.