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Windermere Stanwood Camano Island Soap Box Derby – Frequently Asked Questions

 

1)      How can we get a kid started in Soap Box Derby? 

Just bring them along to one of our Information Nights or Build Clinics and we will get them signed up and talk options for getting them into a car.  To find out where to come get started, contact our Derby Director Christie Connors at the Stanwood Community Resource Center, http://www.stanwoodcamanoresources.org, (360) 629-5257, director@stanwoodcamanoresources.org, www.facebook.com/stancamsbd/ or our local SBD website, www.stanwoodcamanoisland.soapboxderby.org. The national All-American Soap Box Derby (AASBD) website www.soapboxderby.org and the International Soap Box Derby Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/soapboxderby.org/ have lots of great info on this outstanding family activity.

 

2)      How might an individual or business sponsor a car or an element of our race? 

So glad you asked!  If you are interested in being a Sponsor, please reach out to our Derby Director, Christie Connors at the Stanwood Camano Community Resource Center, director@stanwoodcamanoresources.org

Indeed, as our founder Randy Heagle says it takes a village to put on a community-wide event as wonderful as the Stanwood-Camano Derby.  Since its inception in 2008, our race has grown into the largest in the Western US, receiving widespread media coverage and garnering multiple national awards.  We simply could not do this without the very generous support of our Sponsors and Volunteers.  Besides being featured by name on the cars, there are also key sponsorship opportunities for various parts of the race and race venue and operating costs like spare parts.  Sponsors are featured heavily in all posters, banners, programs, signage, media materials, banquet program, announcements, etc.  The Race Week events are a highlight each year for the Stanwood-Camano community.

 

And oh, by the way… grateful Derby families make for very loyal and supportive customers.  JJJ

 

3)      Do drivers need to assemble the car that they are driving?              

Yes, the car must be assembled by the Driver with help from their parent or mentor.  This is a wonderful opportunity for children to get hands-on experience working with tools and the Club offers lots of support for new builders.  The build plans are available on the AASBD website if you want to get a feel for the steps required to assemble a car.  There are also AASBD build videos on the website and YouTube.  Average time to put together one of the kits varies based on mechanical ability from as few as 2-3 hours to as many as 8-10 hours.  At the Build Clinics, the Tech Team is available to help answer questions and ensure your build is both fun and efficient.  If you own your own car you may assemble the car at home. Plan on coming to at least one Build Clinic before final inspection so the Tech Team can help with axel alignment and fine tuning. We strive to share knowledge from past Champions to ensure each car is set up to be highly competitive.  For those borrowing sponsored “Club Cars” these will typically have been disassembled from the prior year and you will then re-assemble them, adjusting as needed to fit your driver.  Trivia Fact: The third fastest Super Stock to ever travel down Akron Derby Downs came from Camano Island.

 

4)      How old must kids be to participate? 

To enter the Stock Division, Drivers must be age 7 by the day of the Local Race they intend to enter (mid-June for Stanwood) and no older than age 14.  To enter the Super Stock division, Drivers must reach age 9, by July 31 of the year they intend to race, and no older than 19 years of age.  Younger Drivers should be mature and likely to become comfortable driving a car that may reach speeds of 30 MPH.  While it is quite common for High School age kids to race Derby, they often grow too large for the cars before aging out.  Note, a birth certificate will be required at the time of registration to confirm Driver age.

 

5)      What type of prizes are the Drivers competing for? 

At the Stanwood-Camano Soap Box Derby, the top eight finishers in each division and the winner of our annual Sportsmanship Award are awarded very handsome trophies.  The top finisher in each division earns the title Local Champion which brings with it an expenses-paid trip for Driver and Car Handler (and their car) to the annual All-American Soap Box Derby Race Week a month or so after our Local Race.  Race Week has taken place on the beautiful grounds of Derby Downs, in Akron, OH for the last 80 years.  Our two Champions represent Stanwood-Camano Island while racing in front of thousands of fans against 400+ Local, Regional, and National Champions from around the US and as far away as New Zealand, Japan, and Europe, in six separate classes.  Race Week consists of parades, social events, awesome family activities, and tons of racing over several days.  Champions at the All-American compete each year for the title of World Champion, a permanent spot for their name and car in the AASBD Hall of Fame & Museum, over $36,000 in college scholarships, and other outstanding trophies and prizes.  One of the 2016 World Champs was invited to be on the Today Show the following week.  Without question, a trip to Race Week is something no child or parent will ever forget. 

 

6)      Do boys and girls compete in the same division?  

Yes they do!  Soap Box Derby is one of the few sports where boys and girls compete on an absolutely level playing field (actually we like a bit of a slope so the cars will roll…).  It all started when two girls disguised themselves as boys in order to race in the very first Derby back in 1934.  From 1935-1970, Derby was run as a boys-only sport.  In 1971 however girls were welcomed back in with open arms, and in 1975 Karen Stead from Lower Bucks County, PA became the first female AASBD World Champion.  Her daughter now races at a national level, and there is a wonderful display of Karen’s car, trophy, and racing memorabilia in the Derby Museum.  For the last few decades, the boy-girl split of World Champions has been about even.

 

7)      How often are races held?                                                

Since 2008, Stanwood-Camano has held a Local Race on the Saturday of Father’s Day Weekend each June.  With upwards of 70 cars some years, this is now the largest Soap Box Derby race in the Western US, and Stanwood has been awarded multiple national awards for the quality of our racing program.  We are truly fortunate to have this race in our town each year.  Stanwood has also hosted Regional Rally race weekends (Sat & Sun) in the past, but not since 2013, primarily due to issues with closing the street.  Planning is now under way for a permanent Soap Box Derby track in the area, which will likely lead to more frequent Rally events in addition to the Local Race.  For those interested in racing their cars more than one day a year against truly outstanding competition, with yet another route to Akron, more info on Northwest Regional Rally Racing can be found below.

 

8)      Where are the races held?                                                      

We currently hold our race in Stanwood on a closed off section of 276th St. NW, east of 78th Ave NW.  The pit area is at the top of the hill, in the parking lot of the Stanwood Senior Center.  This is affectionately referred to as “Stanwood Derby Downs” after the world-famous Derby Downs in Akron, OH, home to the All-American Soap Box Derby.

 

9)      Where and when are the Car Build Clinics held?                                                                                                    

We normally hold Build Clinics in the local area on Thursday nights from 6:00 – 8:00 starting in April and for a number of weeks leading up to the Local Race in June.  Please call or email our Race Director to find out the specific times and location of this year’s Build Clinics.

 

10)   What is the role of the Parent or Mentor?                

Each Driver should have an adult available who will assist them in assembling the car and act as their “Car Handler” on race day.  Car Handler is a defined role in the sport of Derby Racing, with formal role in helping with the prep and racing activities.  This race-team bond is one of the most unique elements of Soap Box Derby.  Derby is unlike other sports where parents just sit on a bench and watch.  Driver and Car Handler work very closely to get their car ready to race, strategize the best lines to drive, make adjustments, and work on driving ability.  It truly is a Team sport.  As such, we often find the parents get bit harder by the Derby bug than their kids. When asked about it decades later, many former Drivers and their parents fondly regard Derby and Derby relationships as some of their most special memories from growing up.

 

11)   What are the different types of cars?                            

In the Stanwood Local, we currently race cars in the Stock and Super Stock divisions.  The Stock cars have a hard plastic body, more square in shape, and available in several colors.  This class is for younger or smaller kids.  To keep things simple, Stock shells can’t be painted, but can be decorated using vinyl graphics or marker pens.  The Super Stock cars have a softer plastic body, more rounded in shape.  This class is for older and larger kids.  These cars can be painted or left unpainted and decorated with graphics as well.  The building and setup is very similar between the two classes.

 

12)   Do we need to buy our own car?                                                   

That is certainly a great option but the Stanwood-Camano Derby also has a number of sponsored cars available, making it possible to enter the sport for little more than the cost of registration and several nights committed to car assembly.  For those that do wish to own their own car, kits and spare parts are available from the AASBD website www.soapboxderby.org.  There may also be private parties selling used cars, but before buying a used car be sure it conforms to the current rules (meaning generally it’s no more than about 10 years old and has not previously been raced in Akron).  Again, come out to a Build Clinic and we’ll be happy to discuss options.

 

13)   How much do the cars cost?                                                      

 As of 2017, new kits for both the Stock and Super Stock divisions are around $500, and a set of Z-glass wheels adds another $125.  Used cars tend to sell for less than this.  Again, through the generosity of our Stanwood-Camano Sponsors, the Club usually has loaner cars available.  Our goal each year is to get every child who wants to race into a car.

 

14)   How much do the cars weigh?                                                  

Combined weight of car and driver are not to exceed 200lbs in Stock and 240lbs in Super Stock.  As the car empty weight is around 65lbs, this means max driver weight in Stock is around 135lbs for Stock and 175lbs for Super.  Kids have been known to love Derby so much as to go on a training diet to continue participating.  Total weight and weight distribution are both very important to the competiveness of the car.  As such weights are installed to get each car up to limit.  It’s also an option to run up to a 15lb differential between front and back wheels.  At the Build Clinics we have scales to check car weight, weights to loan out, and can provide expert guidance for your set-up.

 

15)   What tools will we need to build our car?                             

Assembly requires only fairly basic hand tools.  A cordless driver with a Phillips bit is also very helpful for taking the body shell on and off.  There is a complete tool list in the Build Plans available from the AASBD website.  While we do have a small set of loaner tools, we ask that you bring your own tool box to the Build Clinic to allow everyone to work more efficiently.  There are also several more specialized tools used to ensure the car is aligned properly for optimum performance.  These are available at the Build Clinics.

 

16)   How do the Build Clinics work?                                            

Though the generous support of our Sponsors, most years our Club has been able to obtain access to un-used commercial space in the Stanwood-Camano area.  Participants are then able to bring their tools, saw horses, and cars to the clinic and often leave the cars there week-to-week. Members of our Tech Team attend the Build Clinics to provide help and hands-on support. 

 

17)   Can we build our own car from scratch?                             

The short answer is no.  To qualify cars must be built from official Soap Box Derby car kits using the instructions provide. No modifications are allowed and may disqualify the car and driver from participating in the race. The two car divisions we run in Stanwood are what are called “kit car” divisions.  This allows entry into the sport and fair competition without the hundreds of hours and very specialized knowledge required to build the older “stick built” cars.  This also helps ensure the cars all meet uniform safety requirements.  To enable this, the cars are of a standard design, down to the specific AASBD-provided nuts, bolts, and washer stack-ups.  Within the rules, there is some customization and variation allowed in the way the floor boards are finished (using tung oil and wax), design and placement of the weights (these can be used to stiffen the chassis or otherwise influence performance), alignment details, steering cable tension, and finally the finishes and lettering.  Careful build quality and attention to detail also improve performance.  Finding that final increment of performance within a “standardized” car class is one of the unique and fun challenges of kit car racing.  At the Build Clinics our Tech Team offers new builders insight on just how to do that.

 

For those advanced Drivers who desire more involved design/build and racing at a higher level, the AASBD offers the Masters Class.  These sleek cars are raced in Spring and Fall around the NW in Regional Rally racing, and several past Stanwood-Camano Champions have moved on to this class, competing at a national level.  Masters is for Drivers age 12-21.  The Masters cars are lay-down cars where the Driver peers out from a small slot between their helmet brim and the top of the car.  The Masters class also starts off with a kit, but much more customization of the chassis, running gear, brake system, and body shell are allowed.

 

18)   How do the Inspections work?                                                

The Mon and Tue evening before the weekend of the Local Race, each racer will have a 20-minute appointment for final inspection.  Sign-ups for these are held at the Build Clinics.  Inspections are normally done at the same location as the Build Clinics.  The Driver and an adult are both required to be present at the Inspection with tools to take the shell on and off and make any required repairs.  An Inspector will work with you to go through the car one last time with a checklist to ensure it is safe and built exactly per the rules.  If any repairs are required, time and guidance will be provided.  Then final weights are checked with the Driver in place and the car is moved into a closed-off impound area.  The cars stay there until the morning of the race, when they are transferred by volunteers to the race venue. 

 

19)   How is a typical race conducted?                           

All Local and Rally races in the Northwest (AASBD Region 1) are run as double elimination lane and wheel swap races. This is done to ensure that neither luck of the draw - who you end up racing first - or differences in lane and wheel speed influence the overall outcome of the race.  The Stock and Super Stock classes are run as independent brackets, but the races go on at the same time on the hill.  Due to the size of the Stanwood Local, a typical race day will consist of Drivers checking in for final weights just after 7:00 AM, followed by a breakfast break, safety meeting, racing staring around 9:00 AM, and may go as late as 4:00 by the time the track is cleaned up and trophies are presented.  Many spectators bring an awning and picnic supplies, for an outstanding day on the hill.

 

Drivers are paired up in the brackets by random draw and then compete head-to-head in two-car heats.  They drive their cars down the track, in what is called the first phase of a given heat.  Each heat consists of two phases.  At the bottom, an optical timer records which lane is ahead and by how much.  Races are often decided by only a few thousandths of a second.  The cars are then brought back up the hill on trailers, and the wheels are swapped between cars while still on the trailer (this only takes a few seconds).  The racers then swap lanes and head back down the hill for phase two which completes the heat.  The differential times are added up, and a winner for the heat is declared.

 

The winner of each heat continues racing in the “winner’s bracket” and the loser moves over to race in the “consolation bracket”.  It is very important for racers to realize, it is still possible to win the entire race from the consolation bracket.  It takes two full heat losses to be eliminated from the field.  Both winner and consolation brackets are run until there is one Driver left in each.  The driver in the winner’s bracket is declared “King or Queen of the Hill” as they are undefeated up to that point.  The two remaining Drivers then race each other.  If the King or Queen wins, they are declared overall Champion.  If the Driver from the consolation bracket wins, then the two race off one more time (because the first driver has not had a loss up to that point).  If they win a second time, they are declared Champion, and the King or Queen takes second place.

This may sound confusing, but it is really pretty easy to follow once it gets going.  There are big brackets posted out at the track and outstanding announcers on the PA system that help folks follow all the Derby action.  We also have a great crew of volunteers and officials that help direct the activities.

This race format is one of the greatest things about Derby.  It ensures that even the lowest finishing Drivers will have a minimum of four trips down the hill in the actual race, making for a fun and satisfying day at the track.  Also, if your Driver (or the Car Handler!) slips up and loses a heat, you are still 100% in it and can fight your way back to win the whole thing.  Finally, as mentioned lanes, wheels, and the draw do not influence the results.  The Champion is truly determined by driving skill (~90%) and the set-up of their car (~10%).

 

20)   Is there a chance to practice before the race?                                    

Yes.  We have a Drive Clinic for the new drivers prior to the race.  In recent years this has been held on closed off stretch of Rekdal Road on Camano Island.  This is a great site for new drivers to get comfortable on, as it is a bit slower than the Stanwood track.  If you choose to practice on your own, do so only in a very safe location free of auto traffic or obstacles, and proceed with the utmost of caution.  Never try to stop a moving Derby car by jumping in front of it as they have tremendous energy and are capable of creating injury.

 

21)   Did I hear something about a Drivers Banquet?                                          

Yes, the Thursday before the big race drivers and their families get together for a very fun banquet, usually held at the Stanwood Fair Grounds.  There we enjoy some tasty food, see some cool cars, go over details of how the racing will work, and say a BIG THANKS!!! to all our fantastic Volunteers and Sponsors.  All the Drivers have a chance to eat together at a large table and get each other charged up about the racing action to come. At the Banquet drivers receive their “Goody Bags” that include the Soap Box Derby T-shirt that they are required to wear on race day.

 

22)   What makes for a successful Derby Driver?                                      

(With special thanks for inputs from several of our past Stanwood-Camano Derby Champions) Success in Derby hinges on several key factors.  First and foremost, the Driver must demonstrate good sportsmanship, be tough, and focused.  There will be things that happen over the course of a race that will be distracting or may challenge their resolve.  They must remain focused and cool to drive their very best.  Always know it is not over until it is over.  Having an attitude of sportsmanship greatly helps the driver maintain this composure.  This is a critical life skill that Derby teaches, and one of the reasons the Sportsmanship Trophy is the largest given out each year and the hardest to earn.

 

Teamwork comes next.  Driver and Car Handler must have great communication and work together to understand the racing line and make adjustments.  The Driver must know that it is their responsibility to keep an eye on their car as it is moved and loaded and talk with their Car Handler immediately if anything seems wrong with the car.  Family and friends also play a big part in success, helping to ensure everyone stays focused and get plenty to eat and drink over the course of a long race day.  Derby is without question a Team sport. 

 

Next, car setup indeed plays a part, but quite honestly it has a relatively minor influence as compared to driving ability.  The design of the cars we now race and the rules we follow, have evolved over the years to become very effective at preventing a highly-skilled builder from developing an overwhelming advantage.  In past decades this was not always the case.  Our Tech Team strives each year to make sure all participants have access to the tools, information, and guidance to achieve a very competitive setup in their car.  That said, another critical life lesson Derby teaches is hard work pays off andthe little details do matter.  It’s up to each Driver and their helpers to ask questions, carry out the work, and take care to ensure their car is in top form.  

 

That leaves the actual driving, and driving well really boils down three main factors: 1) Line, 2) Stance, and 3) Smoothness of Hand.  First, the Driver and Car Handler must choose the correct racing line for the lane and circumstances.  Due to crown in the road and obstacles like pavement cracks, etc. the fastest line is rarely ever straight.  Start by watching what other experienced drivers are doing.  Wind, sun, and rain can also influence the lines and they may change dramatically over the course of a race.  Once the line is chosen, understood, and committed to by the Driver it’s time to get set on the starting ramp.  The Driver must contort themself into an aerodynamic stance, and then stay that way right through to the finish line.  This means getting their bottom back and shoulders down as low as possible, ideally leaving their back flat and even with the top of the car.  For most kids, it takes some stretching to get flexible enough to be able to achieve a decent stance.  It also means getting the helmet tipped back to be as flat as possible so it cuts through the air.  Low is good, but for safety the rules demand the driver keep their eyes no lower than the top of the car at all times.  Finally, when running on the race line, steering inputs must be as few and as smooth as possible.  Any time the steering is turned, even slightly, it loads up the wheels and scrubs off speed.  A new driver might move the wheel 100 or more times going down the track where a great driver does so less than 10.  This starts by getting the car properly aligned in the ramps so the race line can be maintained with as little steering as possible.  It will also help to smooth things out if you pick a spot far down the road to focus on, versus directly in front of the car.  Steering during the first few seconds of a run is particularly bad, as is scrubs speed that hurts you the entire length of the run, so be ready when the gate drops.  

 

23)   How large a sport is Soap Box Derby?          

Each year well over 1000 official AASBD Local and Rally races are held in more than half the US states and several foreign countries.  There were estimated to be 3500 active Drivers in 2016.  A niche sport yes, but one with a glorious history and highly devoted following.  Many middle and high schools are now adopting the formal AASBD STEM curriculum that uses full-size and mini Derby cars to teach team work, science, and engineering.  The STEM program now even has its own national championship.  The hot beds of Derby Racing are the mid-West and New England, but there are very active Clubs on the West Coast, South East, and other places as well.   

 

24)   What is Regional Rally Racing all about, and how can I get involved?  

Rally Racing is an outstanding chance to compete with the finest Drivers from other parts of the Region or country.  Most Champions who earn a spot to race in the All-American race in Akron more than one time, do so on the strength of skills honed while racing Rally.  These races follow the exact same format as our Local Race, and most Rally events consist of two separate races on Saturday and Sunday of a race weekend.  As of 2017, Region 1 races are held in Poulsbo, WA (on a curved track no less), Salem, OR (on a beautiful oak-tree lined track going back to 1952), Redmond, OR (another awesome curved track), and the Dalles, OR (looking out over the mighty Columbia).  The venues tend to change a bit each year.  When our Soap Box Derby track is completed on Camano Island we will be sponsoring Rally races again. Rally races are being run for the Stock, Super Stock, and Masters classes, with up to six Rally Champs earning a spot in Akron each summer based on cumulative points.  Please see the AASBD Rule Book for details of how the Rally points system works.

 

A typical Rally weekend, consists of putting the cars in a truck or trailer, picking the kids up from school on Friday afternoon, and driving to the race city.  While racing only one day is an option, most families choose to make a full weekend of it.  Setup and weigh-ins are held at the track the morning of the race, with Race 1 concluding that afternoon.  Saturday evening, most of the families get together for a dinner.  There is often an official race hotel with discounted rates where folks get together to swim or just hang out.  The Sunday routine is a repeat of Saturday, with an emphasis on trying to wrap up early so folks can get back on the road home.

 

In the NW, Rally Racing is normally held in Spring (April-May) and Fall (Aug-Oct), leaving June/July for the Local and All-American Races.  If Rally interests you, contact our Derby Director who will place you in touch with the organizers or a Regional Director.  Both Kitsap and Salem SBD Clubs also have Facebook pages where the latest news, race results, and schedules are posted.  If you need a car to race, the Stanwood-Camano club may have sponsored cars you can borrow to Rally with.  You will be expected to replace consumable parts like brake pads and return the car in equal or better shape than you got it.  If you want to try out Rally, but don’t have a way to transport the cars, reach out to the Club putting on the race.  Most have loaner cars they’d be happy to set you up with the morning of the race, as they are often trying to fill the fields and get more folks interested in racing.

 

One of the most wonderful things about Rally Racing is the family memories and friendships you will build.  You meet the nicest and most interesting people in this sport.  It is a close-knit community and while the racing is serious, so is the commitment to sportsmanship and helping each other out.  You hang out with many of the same families year after year, travel back to Akron together as a group, and form lifetime bonds.  There is a very true saying in Rally circles: Derby for Life!       

 

25)   What is the safety record of Soap Box Derby?  

The Stanwood Camano Island Soap Box Derby has an excellent safety record. As in all sports, unfortunately accidents can happen.  That said the cars are designed to be very safe in a crash and great care is taken to ensure the race track and participants have been properly prepared to conduct an incident and injury-free race.  Each and every race starts with a Driver safety briefing.   We also emphasize safety whenever operating tools during our Build Clinics.  While there have been injuries in Soap Box Derby, they are rare and the injury statistics are much more favorable than youth stick-and-ball sports.  If at any time during one of our events you notice what appears to be an unsafe situation, we ask that you immediately inform one of the Officials so we can respond accordingly.

 

Thank You to Rich Johnson, volunteer extraordinaire, for compiling these frequently asked questions.

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