After being one of the many events canceled last year as the coronavirus unleashed itself, The Piedmont Area Soap Box Derby is returning on June 12 at the Paul Bates Raceway.
Races are set throughout the day with the opening ceremony slated for 10:30 a.m.
Excitement was in the air on May 22 as drivers prepared their cars and flew down the tracks during practice runs. Race Director Sheila Rae Rutherford recalled having to send the notification announcing the cancellation last year.
“I sat there and looked at the email before I sent it for a long time going ‘I don’t want to press transmit now’ because it is hard to disappoint the kids like that," she said.
That, however, is in the past and Rutherford said it was fantastic to return to the tracks as the drivers’ enthusiasm was contagious.
Since the race was planned amid the uncertainty of what future coronavirus guidelines would entail, there will be fewer participants than usual. But 29 drivers are set to compete in a double-elimination tournament in the stock, superstock and masters divisions.
The champions from each division will qualify for the 83rd World Championship in Akron, Ohio in July and compete against drivers from around the world. Those who win their divisions in the local race will receive a winner’s jacket and a $1,000 award to offset the cost of traveling to Ohio. If they win in Ohio – an accomplishment reached by five local drivers - awards include a champion’s jacket, ring and scholarship.
Rutherford explained that the derby is such a great experience for children because it teaches a litany of life lessons such as respect, sportsmanship and camaraderie. She was near tears when describing a scene from a past derby in which three competitors embraced after a race.
“It’s just remarkable to see the friendships that they’ve made and how much they support each other,” she said.
Rutherford noted that the derby also allows children to apply the skills they learn in school and actually see the results. Beyond that, it is just a good family fun environment in which a driver can experience “the thrill of the hill.”