FirstEnergyAll-American Soap Box Derby Countdown


The Graphite Kid Returns To Derby Downs

Gil Klecan PhotoGil Klecan with his hardware from the 1946 All-American Soap Box Derby.
1946 Gilbert KlecanGil Klecan accepting the championship trophy at
the 1946 All-American Soap Box Derby.
Gilbert (Gil) Klecan, of San Diego, Calif., the 1946 world champion of the All-American Soap Box Derby, will serve as Grand Marshal of Saturday’s pre-race parade. Klecan, 85, is returning to Derby Downs for the first time since the 50th anniversary race in 1987.

Klecan was 14 when he won the 1946 title. He had been encouraged to enter the San Diego local race by an engineer acquaintance who helped design his car. He recalls that in the rush to complete his racecar for the local race, he did not have time to paint it. After he won, he got permission to paint the car, but was not satisfied with the roughness of the finish. When he got to Akron for the championships, he applied graphite to the car’s surface to improve its smoothness and aerodynamics. The young racer decided that it also would be a clever idea to put some graphite on his face and clothes. News photographs of him in the winner’s circle covered with graphite led to his nickname of “Graphite Kid”--andalso to race officials banning the use of the substance in subsequent years.

A day following the race, then-sponsor Chevrolet was filming young Gil going down the Derby Downs track. Vehicles mounted with movie cameras rolled down the track ahead of Gil and his car. When the director hollered to “stop” the filming, one of the truck drivers mistakenly put on the brakes in front of the newly crowned champion and Klecan ran his car into the vehicle breaking two vertebrae. He spent time in recovering in an Akron hospital before a trip to New York City as a guest of Firestone. Later, Klecan studied engineering at Fresno State University, but instead chose a career in real estate. Over the decades, he built a successful San Diego brokerage and he became a major investor in apartment buildings. Because of his career accomplishments and his leadership in various professional and civic organizations, the City of San Diego honored Klecan with “Gil Klecan Day” in April 2011.
He also is an avid car collector. Welcome back to Derby Downs, Gil, to mark the 71st anniversary of your graphite-supported