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In its 85th year, Soap Box Derby World Championship in Akron connects generations of racers

 Joe McCurdy, of Lisbon, Ohio, and his sons Elijah, 12, and Jacob, 15, install wheels and weights to their a race car on Wednesday, July 12, 2023, at the Derby Downs racetrack in Akron.
Ryan Loew
/
Ideastream Public Media
Joe McCurdy, of Lisbon, Ohio, and his sons Elijah, 12, and Jacob, 15, install wheels and weights to their a race car on Wednesday, July 12, 2023, at the Derby Downs racetrack in Akron.

Young drivers from across the world will gather at the Derby Downs racetrack in Akron this week for the 85th annual All-American Soap Box Derby World Championship.

The events began Monday with the annual parade at noon in Downtown Akron, followed by the Opening Ceremony. The parade is back after it was canceled last year due to protests downtown in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Jayland Walker.

Akron has hosted the world championship race for the past 84 years. The first tournament was held in Dayton in 1934.

While Derby Downs was built in Akron in 1936 to be a permanent venue for the championship race, other local races are held there throughout the year.

More than 330 participants ranging from ages seven to 20 will travel from places far as California, Canada and Japan to compete this year, marketing manager Emma Stine said.

Some of these racers have been involved for generations, she said.

“It seems to be a family thing. Your grandfather did this, your dad did this, now you’re doing this,” Stine said. “But it’s great to see that.”

Brianna Waldron is a third-generation racer. She traveled from her hometown in Roanoke, Virginia to be both a racer and volunteer this year.

“Derby is not for any specific clique, I would say,” Waldron said. “There's so many different aspects. I know rock stars that are racing. I know high school scholars. You know, there's so many different types of kids that are racing. And that's what the beauty about derby is, is that anyone can do it.”

Waldron built her car with her grandfather. The car’s body features dozens of family photos at soap box derby events. Many date back to when her grandfather competed as a child.

Every race can have a different outcome which keeps the competition interesting over many years, Waldron said.

“The competition changes every weekend,” she said. “There's really nothing consistent about it. Everyone wins different weekends and everything changes depending on the track and the driver and everything.”

Races will take place all week including all-star races with past winners and exhibition races with specialty cars. The championship race is Saturday starting at 8:30 AM. An awards ceremony at the Akron Civic Theatre will conclude the day.

Jenna Bal is a news intern at Ideastream Public Media.