Soap Box Derby competition is more than just a race

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COLUMBIA – Columbia’s Downtown Optimist Club hosted its annual Soap Box Derby on Sunday. The race, though competitive, teaches children life skills and science.

Blake Holmes, an 11-year-old driver from Columbia, got his start in the race four years ago.

“I actually started doing this because we actually got a Christmas tree here (Downtown Optimist Club) when it was Christmas and then they asked me if I wanted to race in the Soap Box Derby and I said, ‘yeah, sure I’ll race in the Soap Box Derby,’” Holmes said.

To Holmes’ surprise, he won his division.

“I was really, really happy because I didn’t think I was going to win because it was my first year and I really didn’t know anything, but I was really happy because I got to go to nationals,” Holmes said.  

In his four years of racing, he’s learned the competition is more than just a race. Holmes’s said it’s an opportunity to spend more time with his family and learn more about physics.

“You shouldn’t steer a lot because when you’re steering, you’re just wasting, you won’t go fast instead of just going straight on,” Holmes said. “And building the car is really, really fun because you get to spend time with your family and like, my dad and I were building my car, doing tweaks and everything like the alignments has to be as straight as it can be on a dial to zero. You have to adjust your axle, brake, and pedal and spring too. It’s just really exciting.”

Mid-Missouri Soap Box Derby Director Rick McKernan said derby racing is built on educational STEM concepts where the drivers learn various aspects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

The program book states, "While the driver's mission is to win the race, doing so requires the sound application of many educational concepts that enhance the driver's likelihood of winning."

Holmes’ mom Cassy said the Downtown Optimist Club provides a great opportunity for the children and families.

“We are able to get together and it’s not just the kids working on the cars, there’s always parents and siblings always running around here,” Cassy said.

She said this competition has allowed Blake to learn outside of the typical sports he does.

“He learns about science and physics, and the cars going up and down in motion,” Cassy said. “It’s not just your typical sports thing. There is a learning aspect to it.”  

Blake has learned several science lessons through the race, but he’s also gained more knowledge on other subjects.

“I might do some stretches because I have to get low in my car because of the aerodynamics."

He said he’s excited to race on Sunday, but is okay if he doesn’t win again.

“It’s not really bad if I don’t go to Akron because I give someone else the chance to go to Akron, because I’ve already been there,” Holmes said. “So, it doesn’t really matter if I lose or win or something. It’s just about having fun really.”

43 drivers from all over Mid-Missouri including Sturgeon, Fayette, Fulton, Ashland, Hartsburg, Harrisburg, Hallsville, Boonville, Centralia, Clark and Columbia participated on Sunday. Different businesses sponsored the drivers.

The finalists with the best times advance to the International Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio where drivers from all around the world compete. The drivers range from 7-17 years old, but some “local celebrity” drivers also came to compete on Sunday.

The three different divisions in the Soap Box Derby are Stock, SuperStock, and Masters. To see a list of rules for the competition, visit the Mid-Missouri’s Soap Box Derby’s website.