Forum: Behind the Derby

Today’s Machining World Archives August 2010 Volume 06 Issue 06

Behind the Derby
“Saving Akron’s Soapbox Derby” brought back memories. BAD ones! When I participated (‘66 or ‘67), I was 12 or 13. With no allowance or chance of a part time job, I struggled to raise the cash to buy the official “parts kit” and build the car. (As I recall we were limited to a total expenditure of about $40, but could use any materials we happened to have on hand.) The “parts kit” was a couple metal axles and four wheels. That’s it. The Derby had strict rules for the car’s length, height, width, weight and ground clearance, all seemingly designed to favor small kids over tall kids (me) or heavy kids. Ground clearance had a tight tolerance. Something like +/- 1/8”. So if you were heavy, the floorboard had to be very stiff. I had to double up 3/4” plywood to ensure it wouldn’t defect under my weight. No money was left for the body. Crude chicken wire, fiberglass cloth, and resin. Since I was tall, my knees were in the way of the steering wheel. The car was so short it was all I could do to avoid pressing the brakes. The chicken wire pattern showed through the fiberglass. At least I knew I had done all the work myself, with only a little advice from my Dad.

On the day of the race, our cars were inspected. I was impressed with one heavy kid’s car. He had done a beautiful job building a car he could fit in, despite the regulations. And I knew he built it himself. Unfortunately, he was 5 lbs. overweight, and the judges were unyielding. After he stripped off all extraneous clothing I watched him, teary eyed, cutting up his double floorboard with a whole saw. He made weight, but the floorboard defected about 1/16” when he sat in the car, and he was disqualified before the heats started.

I ambled over to a car that everyone was admiring. The kid, who was very short and light, was bragging. It was a bullet that looked to be carved out of a solid block of wood with a slick bar top finish. Obviously his Dad spared no expense! It looked like a Ferrari factory car. The steering wheel had been bent into a butterfly shape and brazed to allow more room. Mods like that were supposed to be illegal, but the car was so beautiful the judges ignored the violation. I talked to the kid. He knew nothing about how the car was built. It was obvious to me his Dad had built the whole thing.

One run down the hill was all that was allowed. I lost my heat. I was ahead, but someone said my brake dragged partway down the hill. Probably pushed the thing in the excitement, as my legs were so cramped. I don’t recall who won the final, but I know the bullet car placed high. I went home and sold my car to a neighborhood kid for $5. Dad didn’t want it in the garage, and I knew I’d have a tough time raising the money for next year. That year or the next, I recall the national winner got caught with an electromagnetic device in the nose of his car. Pulled him out of the starting gate faster. He made it all the way to Akron before it was detected.

I wouldn’t cry over the loss of the Derby. It was a contest for adults.

Jim C.
Applied Concepts

She Had me at Hello
I read with interest “She Had Me at Hello” in the June issue of TMW. Lloyd and I have something in common besides this wonderful industry—we each celebrated 40 years of marriage this year. Congratulations to you and Risa.

Chris and I were married June 6, 1970, in Dayton, Ohio. We met in late August 1966 at a dance on the old tennis courts during freshman orientation at the University of Dayton. Chris was a “townie” and I readily accepted many invitations to join her family for dinner. Our freshman year, I took the city bus out to her home in Kettering. Chris and her dad would drive me back to the dorm on campus. My future father-in-law was a 1923 graduate of UD and knew many of the older priests and brothers still at the school. As a young man he met one of the Wright brothers and Charles Kettering. His stories of growing up in Dayton, the expansion of NCR, and the influence of the auto industry on the city were fascinating and educational.

Chris and I have great memories of our college experiences and have been blessed with our children and grandchildren. Life is good.

Mike Duffn

Go Cubs
I usually skim through the “Contributors” page of TMW and noticed that Emily had a write-up this month. I absolutely appreciate any mention a Cubs fan makes regarding our team. I remember reading about Lloyd Graff and his brush with Cubs fame also. Specifically though, what really caught my eye was seeing the picture of Todd Toborg raising the Cup. I can only imagine what the Blackhawks fever was like last month and it made me actually miss being home for once. I’m pretty sure I was one of only a few watching that series down here in Cincy. Reading your Contributor write-ups make me miss being in an office with fellow Cubs/Hawks/Bears/Bulls fans.

So from one Cubs fan to another: Go Cubs…There’s always next year!

J.S. Habib
Hi-Tek Manufacturing, Inc.

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