Youngsters learned a lesson Saturday about gravity — it can make a race car go fast.
Gravity powered the race cars of more than 30 children and teens who strapped on helmets, gripped steering wheels and tried to become champions in the Goshen Soap Box Derby at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds.
And it wasn’t just the kids racing Saturday. Adding a little excitement to the kickoff of the event was a friendly challenge between Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers and Undersheriff Sean Holmes. To make things more challenging, the pair chose to forgo the more modern and aerodynamic Soap Box cars used by the kids, instead choosing to battle it out in two vintage Soap Box cars named Larry the Shark and the Pregnant Tiger.
"As sheriff, I want to be involved in the community, and this is just a great way to get out and show my support," said Rogers, who claimed victory in the challenge.
Top spots for the kids were up for grabs in three separate divisions during the event: Stock Champion; Superstock Champion; and Masters Champion.
Racers in each division were determined by height and weight, with stock racers being the smallest and lightest and masters the tallest and heaviest.
"The cars are weighed and the kids are weighed beforehand so that they all equal the same weight when they go down the track," said Derby committeeman Bill Fales. He said weights can be added to the cars in order to ensure each car and rider weighs approximately the same.
"The bigger kids have to go into what they call the masters cars. Then the stocks are for a little lighter kid, because they’re not as wide, and then superstocks are for the kids in between."
While some cars in Saturday’s race were independently bought and assembled, a majority of the cars were purchased through various community businesses and service organizations and donated for use in the event. A majority of the racers participating in Saturday’s event also had their $10 entry fees paid through local sponsors from the community.
"A lot of the kids got in with scholarships through organizations like the Elkhart County Exchange Club, Optimist International, the Kiwanis Club, or the Boys and Girls Club," said Jennifer Meier, wife of event chairman Todd Meier. "It’s really nice too, because at the end of the event everyone gets a new bike helmet, a T-shirt, and a whole bag full of prizes. So it’s a lot of fun."
Mark Mahony, Elkhart, said he decided to bring his son along for the race after hearing of the event from a close friend.
"This is our first time here, so it’s something exciting he has never done," Mahony said of his 10-year-old son, Brandon. "It’s something he has always wanted to do, so he’s really excited."
Jeff Kitson of Nappanee was showing some excitement of his own while preparing to watch his son race in Saturday’s event.
"These races are great for kids because they teach responsibility," Kitson said. "The kids are in full control of the car. There is nothing the parent can do other than give encouragement, so it’s up to the drivers to drive the car down the hill and then find the spot that works for them."
Kitson said it was really fun watching his son slowly learning the ins and outs of the course and gradually increasing his speed throughout the afternoon.
"After his first race he came back and said how he’d found a dip in the track and used it to his advantage," Kitson said. "That was encouraging to see the way he saw the lay of the land and went for it."
Taking top honors in the Stock Division Saturday were: First, Matthew Bond, 10, Elkhart; second, Bailey Dull, 11, Elkhart; and third, Brooke Cripe, 10, Middlebury.
Top placers in the Superstock Division were: first, Brandon Mahoney, 10, Elkhart; second, Kyle Miller, 13, Middlebury; and third, Austin Watts, 12, Middlebury.
Taking home the top prizes in the Master Division were: first, Tydis Miller, 11, Goshen; second, Carrie O’Dell, 12, Goshen; and third, Jeff Sowers, 15, Goshen.
Additional sponsors featured in Saturday’s Soap Box Derby were: Interra Credit Union; Team Construction Co.; Triangle Rubber Co.; Big C Lumber; First State Bank; and Judd Family Dentistry.