FirstEnergyAll-American Soap Box Derby Countdown


Derby Spotlight - John Menches

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John with his grandson, Sean, the day that Sean decided
to participate in the Soap Box Derby.

Derby Spotlight – John Menches

John Menches was 13 when he participated in the 1963 Akron Local Soap Box Derby race. During this time there were no car kits like there are in today’s Soap Box Derby. It was up to the racers' creativity to build their cars, because only a few items were supplied to the racers. For John, going down the hill for the first time during his practice run was an unforgettable moment in his life. Being a part of the Soap Box Derby provided him with a career path he soon knew he wanted to take--engineering.

“The excitement of accomplishing a goal, taking various materials to build a Derby car, the work and efforts to complete the Derby car followed by that thrill was a great deal for a 13 year old to grasp. But the thought that I created this moment was my beginning,” said Menches.

Even though John was quickly eliminated in the 1963 Akron Local race, his father said something that resonated with him. John’s father, Tom, told him, “You accomplished a lot and you don't see that yet. Although you lost, you don't know why you lost. Take a look at the Derby cars that are doing well. What techniques can you find they may have that your car doesn't have, or you didn't know to consider?” The lesson was simple -- John’s father wanted him to step back and observe his surroundings and find out how he could improve. At this moment, John knew that he wanted to understand more about mechanical things.

The process of building his Derby car taught John about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) whether he knew it or not at the time. One STEM concept he learned about was technology; specifically, how the shape of the nose of his car put him at a disadvantage compared to the other cars' noses. His car had a straight vertical nose while other cars had a slanted nose, which allowed the gravitational pull on these cars to begin sooner. This also taught him the importance of observing his surroundings and looking ahead. “I learned to look at the environment that I will be participating in. This concept applies to all engineering fields and business dealings. What is the lay of the land?” asked Menches.

John attributes the Soap Box Derby to developing a passion for mechanics, tools, and ‘tools of the trade’. By improving on the skills that he learned at the Derby, Menches later restored a 1931 Model “A” Ford Rumble Seat Coup.

In the years following the Derby, John went to Manchester High School in New Franklin, Ohio. After high school, Menches attended the University of Akron where he earned a two-year degree in Applied Mechanical Engineering. After his two years at the University of Akron, he attended Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Business. He currently resides in Green, Ohio, where he and his sister, Linda, are now co-owners of a restaurant called Menches Brothers. Before owning the restaurant, John worked in operations at Buckeye Feed Mills and later became Vice President. After working for Buckeye Feed Mills, he went on to start a career at Babcock and Wilcox, a company that builds electrical power plants. He eventually became a Project Engineer at B&W, then retired at age 64 to run Menches Brothers Restaurant full-time.

Now, another generation of Menches Derby racers is taking to the hill as John's grandson, Sean Roarty, prepares his car for the competition. John is adamant that his grandchildren learn the same lessons that he did from the iconic Soap Box Derby, and instills in them this life philosophy:

“The thrill of the chase applies when you put goals in life into everything you do. All your successes and failures add up to your character."


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John with his 1931 Model "A" Ford Rumble Seat Coupe.


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John with his grandson, Sean, with Sean's Sportmanship trophy that he won in 2014 from the Akron Area Suburban Soap Box Derby.



John, Sean and Kevin (Sean's dad) with Sean's Soap Box Derby Stock car.

Note: This is the twelfth 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 

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)