It was almost 60 years ago when hot rodders raced home-built cars through Newark, but thanks to NJIT, Rutgers University, Newark and the City of Newark, the first All-American Soap Box Derby since then will be held here June 16.Although today hot rodders assemble cars from kits, the excitement and thrill of racing downhill on Warren Street hasn’t changed much, said Juan Silva, president of Our Youth Now, an organization he founded to support young people.
“The derby serves another purpose,” said Tony Howell, director of the NJIT Educational Opportunity Program, the lead at NJIT behind the event. “At NJIT where we encourage all students to push the edge in knowledge, we view a hands-on event like this as a terrific way to communicate the fun and excitement of studying STEM subjects--science, technology, engineering and math. An understanding and appreciation of STEM is a key value at NJIT. There is no better way than a Soap Box Derby for instilling in youngsters, the thrill of learning.”
Three car kits were purchased from the All American Soap Box Derby and assembled earlier this month by NJIT students and Newark middle school students.
(ATTENTION REPORTERS and PHOTOGRAPHERS: Media contacts the day of the race will be Tony Howell 908-770-4700 or Juan Silva, at 973-900-4637 firstname.lastname@example.org who will be available at the Rutgers University-Newark, Bradley Hall Parking lot at Warren Street at 9 a.m.)
Although the race will take place from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., interested by-standers may arrive as early as 7 a.m. to see the cars being transported and set up. At 9 a.m. warm-up races will begin. The course is down Warren Street from MLK Boulevard to University Place. “It’s a beautiful slope overseeing Newark’s high-rise downtown buildings and worth the trip just for the view,” said Silva who hopes that the free event will encourage many viewers to join the fun. Food and other vendors will be available.
Students from as many as 20 different Newark schools and organizations are expected to participate. The winner will travel to Akron in early July for the world championship. Three family members will join him in an all-paid trip.
Sponsorships to support the event are available ranging from $700 to $2,000. Sponsors can hang banners, receive full-page color program ads and put their company logo on a specific car.
The Soap Box Derby is a youth racing program which has run nationally since 1934. World Championship finals are held each July at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio.
The idea of the Soap Box Derby grew out of a photographic assignment of Dayton, Ohio, newsman Myron Scott. He covered a race of boy-built cars in his home community and was so impressed with this event that he acquired a copyright for the idea and began development of a similar program on a national scale.
The first All-American race was held in Dayton in 1934. The following year, the race was moved to Akron because of its central location and hilly terrain. In 1936, Akron civic leaders recognized the need for a permanent track site for the youth racing classic and, through the efforts of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Derby Downs became a reality.
Each year since, with the exception of during World War II, youngsters from throughout the United States and several foreign countries have come to Akron with the racers they have built and driven to victory in their home communities.
There will be three racing divisions in most locals and at the All-American competition. The Stock division is designed to give the first-time builder a learning experience. Boys and girls, 7 through 13 compete in simplified cars built from kits purchased from the All-American. These kits assist the Derby novice by providing a step-by-step layout for construction of a basic lean forward style car. The Super Stock Car division, ages 10 through 17, gives the competitor an opportunity to expand their knowledge and build a more advanced model. Both of these beginner levels make use of kits and shells available from the All-American. These entry levels of racing are popular in race communities across the country, as youngsters are exposed to the Derby program for the first time.
The Masters division offers boys and girls, 10 through 17, an advanced class of racer to try their creativity and design skills in. Masters entrants may purchase a Scottie Masters Kit with a fiberglass body from the All-American Soap Box Derby.
The goals of the Soap Box Derby program have not changed since it began in 1934. They are to teach youngsters some of the basic skills of workmanship, the spirit of competition and the perseverance to continue a project once it has begun.