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Derby Spotlight - James Yeager

05.24.2017

Jim W Streaker Soap Box Derby Car 2017 BJim with his Derby car, Streaker in 2017

Derby Spotlight - James Yeager

James (Jim) Yeager began racing in 1972 and continued for a few years to the mid-70s.  An Akron area native, Jim attended Coventry High School and Portage Lakes Vocational Center to study mechanical drafting.  He discovered early on that he really enjoyed carpentry, building race cars and completing all types of similar hands-on projects.  After attending a few Derby clinics, Jim became more interested in racing, this would not only jumpstart his racing career but help guide him to his chosen STEM-related career later in life. 

Upon graduation from his vocational center’s program, Jim started his career as a mechanical draftsman. He knew all along however, that he really wanted to build new homes.  The economy was not doing well at this time, so this dream would have to be put on hold.  At age 27, he went to work as a trim carpenter with his only experience coming from building Derby cars and a remolding his mother’s kitchen and bathroom.  As Jim was developing his skills in this field the economy started thriving again, allowing him to finally start the home building business he always wanted.  His building experience gained through participation in the Soap Box Derby helped Jim make the decision to pursue a career in the design, drafting and construction field.  He also credits his instructor in the drafting program, Doug Bernhardt, for guiding him toward the right career path and bestowing the importance of STEM upon him.  “I find myself using the disciplines I acquired back then, almost daily as a home builder,” says Jim.

Jim participated in Derby races from 1972-74, racing in the Akron Local and several “Wildcat” races in the area.  Until his third year of racing the only heats Jim had won were in the “wildcat” races, and he never competed as an All-American racer.  This helped Jim to grow and learn that not everyone is a race champion, but all win by being involved in the Soap Box Derby.  He learned a lot from the Derby, such as being a part of this program is not only about the day of the competition, but the lessons you take away from the experience.  He enjoyed the educational aspect of racing as well as the family time that came with it.  While his father would come support him at the races he did not help him build the cars, so Jim’s mother took on a number of roles to assist him.  She would pick up parts to make the cars, help Jim build them and was his personal cheerleader at the races!  As he grew older, Jim appreciated the strong bond Derby racing brought he and his mother.  One of his fondest memories from racing came after Jim spent months constructing and painting his very own Derby car to race at the local at Derby Downs.  He was so excited because this is where the All-American racers would compete!  At the pre-race inspections, Jim learned that the floorboard on his car had become warped and only three of the wheels touched the ground.  Being so young and all on his own, Jim became very upset by this and had no idea what to do.  Luckily, with the help of one of the volunteer pit crew fathers, he was able to fix the problem and be on his way to racing down the hill!  The adversity he had to overcome that day was a quality life lesson for Jim and has stuck with him as a good memory all these years later.

Today, Jim has his own successful construction company and resides with his wife, Julie, of 34 years.  While his children were never able to participate in the Derby growing up due to life’s daily demands, Jim is still interested in having the Soap Box Derby in his future.  His time as a racer impacted him so positively, that he would enjoy giving back and possibly being a race director or someone who contributes to bringing Fortune 500 sponsors to the sport.  He really hopes to see large corporate sponsorship in the Derby’s future.  He believes that, “It’s time to think big again and convince a corporate giant to invest in our youth and the builders of tomorrow.”  

 1973 Repair Tent W Gus Foster

 Jim at the Repair Tent with Gus Foster in 1973

 1974 Mom Marti 1St Heat Win Hug

Marti, Jim's sister,  with her Mom receiving a first heat win hug in 1974

 1974 Wlidcat Race Kid W Arms Crossed

Jim at the Wildcat race in 1974

 

Kitchen To Great Rm 1884

 

Drywall Living Rm 01

 

Foyer To Rear View 1867

 Photographs from Jim's construction business.

Note: This is the eighteenth in a series of spotlights on former Derby racers who have gone on to study/work in a STEM related field. If you know of someone who we could spotlight please let us know at soapbox@soapboxderby.org 

Past Spotlight Features

Nicole Stout - Spotlight (January 2016)

Michael Gallo - Spotlight (February 2016) 

Todd Hinton - Spotlight (March 2016)

Alan Uhler - Spotlight (April 2016)

Kristi Murphy - Spotlight (May 2016)

James Fell - Spotlight (June 2016)

Michael J. Corson, Jr. - Spotlight (July 2016)

David Reid - Spotlight (August 2016)

John Horner - Spotlight (September 2016)

John Hamels - Spotlight (October 2016)

Kenneth Holmboe - Spotlight (November 2016)

John Menches - Spotlight (December 2016)

Steve Cox - Spotlight (January 2017)

Rachel (Dyer) Samm - Spotlight (February 2017)

Nevin Ream - Spotlight (March 2017)

Trey Knepper - Spotlight (April 2017)