FirstEnergyAll-American Soap Box Derby Countdown


Thank You Thursday - Danny Hughes

Danny HughesDanny Hughes

Did you know the first Nike shoes were made inside a waffle iron? Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike, and his wife were making waffles for breakfast: It sparked an idea for a grooved pattern on the sole of trainers to help athletes grip running tracks. It spawned the “Nike Waffle Trainer,” patented in 1974.

Did you know the first Soap Box Derby mini car shell was made in the oven of a Derby volunteer in Columbus, Ohio?

Danny Hughes has been involved with Derby racing since the late 90’s when his daughter Danielle began racing. She was the Columbus Local champion in 1999 (Stock), 2001 (Super Stock) and 2003 (Masters). As Dannielle aged out of the Derby program Danny stayed involved with the Columbus Local and also as a volunteer with the All-American program.

In 2011 new Derby President & CEO Joe Mazur had the idea of creating a scaled-down version of a Soap Box Derby car that could be used in classrooms around the world. Mazur and Hughes were discussing the idea one afternoon and Hughes took it upon himself to help create a proto-type of a mini car.

“I tried a number of things early on to try and come up with the mini car,” said Hughes. I finally figured out that I could use a vacuum-mold process to create the shell. The floorboards were cut out of wood and we used the same wheels that were being used on Pinewood Derby cars.”

Hughes presented the proto-type to Mazur and the first Soap Box Derby mini car was born. The tough part was trying to figure out how to mass produce the cars with little funding. Hughes took it upon himself to create a mold, and, using plastic from a plastics company in Columbus, baked them in his kitchen oven.

“We wanted the first mini cars to be given to the champs competing in the 2012 All-American Soap Box Derby World Championship race,” said Hughes. “I made hundreds of shells in my oven and the floorboards were cut at the Topside facility at Derby Downs. We assembled the cars using metal axles, screws to hold in the axles, washers to go over the bolts to act as weights and rubber c-clamps to hold the wheels on the axles.”

Hughes continued to make the shells in his oven until it became overwhelming with the numbers that were being sold. In 2014 he stopped making them in his oven when the Derby our-sourced the shells to a plastics company.

The mini car now includes a plastic floorboard that is cut on the CNC machine at Derby Downs. The wheels are plastic authentic Soap Box Derby wheels that are now made from a mold.

“The whole process has changed from when I started,” Hughes said. “I’m glad that the Derby is selling a lot of the mini cars and I’m glad that I played a part in the development of them.”

In addition to the development of the mini cars Hughes played a key role in the update of the new Masters Car plans. During the month of July you will find Hughes managing “Danny’s Bistro” in the back of the production facility at Derby Downs where he cooks daily for the volunteers at the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby. He was also the driving force behind the Masters Car build clinics that were run during the All-American race a few years ago and is a member of the Derby's Racing Commission.

“Danny has been invaluable to the Derby,” said Derby President & CEO Joe Mazur. “He has been one of our key volunteers over the last number of years and was a huge help in the development of the mini car program. Every time a mini car goes out of here we can thank Danny for his commitment to the Derby.”

The Derby would like to say THANK YOU to Danny Hughes for helping us continue our mission of building knowledge and character, and creating meaningful experiences through collaboration and fair and honest competition.

This is the 22nd installment of our weekly “Thank You Thursday” feature. Each week we will offer a heartfelt “Thank You” to a corporation, civic or community leader, volunteer, foundation or an individual who has helped us continue our mission. To view previous features please click below.

Danny Hughes Mini Car Races
Danny Hughes helping champs set their mini cars at the Topside Show at the 2014 FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby.

Danny Hughes CookingDanny Hughes cooking for volunteers at the 2012 FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby. 

Mini Cars
Soap Box Derby mini cars getting ready to be weighed at the 2013 Gravity Racing Challenge STEM Team Competition. 

Thank You Thursday
Thursday, September 29, 2016 - FirstEnergy Corp.
Thursday, October 6, 2016 - Don Plusquellic
Thursday, October 13, 2016 - Bill Ginter
Thursday, October 20, 2016 - Marous Brothers Construction
Thursday, October 27, 2016 - Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems
Thursday, November 3, 2016 - Myers Industries
Thursday, November 10, 2016 - Outgoing Board Members
Thursday, November 17, 2016 - New Board Members
Thursday. November 24, 2016 - Volunteers
Thursday, December 1, 2016 - Dairy Queen 
Thursday, December 8, 2016 - Curriculum Funders
Thursday, December 15, 2016 - SUBWAY®
Thursday, December 22, 2016 - Will Looman
Thursday, December 29, 2016 - Taylor Made Jewelry
Thursday, January 5, 2017 - Greater Akron Chamber
Thursday, January 12, 2017 - Bob Troyer
Thursday, January 19, 2017 - GPD Group
Thursday, January 26, 2017 - Former Summit County Executive Russ Pry and the County of Summit, Ohio
Thursday, February 2 - Pilot Flying J
Thursday, February 9 - Dave Hubbell
Thursday, February 16 - AAA Akron Auto Club