FirstEnergyAll-American Soap Box Derby Countdown




Sbd BallardSoap Box Derby headquarters recently has learned of the death in November 2020 of Robert Lewis (Bob) Ballard, who won the fourth All-American Soap Box Derby in 1937, as the 12-year-old champion from White Plains, New York. Ballard was 96 and was the longest-living world champion in Soap Box Derby history.  His death was due to COVID-19 complications.

He is survived by four daughters and 10 grandchildren.

The skills Bob learned from the Soap Box Derby led to a decades-long professional career in engineering. His studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, were interrupted in 1944 by World War II. He served in the United States Navy as an electronics and communications specialist until his discharge in 1946.  Ballard then returned to Worcester where he earned degrees in both electrical and mechanical engineering. 

After joining General Motors’ styling department, he earned his first patent for a “rain switch” that activated automatically to raise the top of a parked convertible. He also was awarded a patent in 1951 for the first electrically heated seats in vehicles. At GM’s Harrison Radiator Division, Ballard earned patents for early use of robotics on assembly lines.

He received engineering-related patents while employed by such companies as Whirlpool, Black & Decker and Ingersoll Rand. He later became a consultant. Bob spent his last 40 years as a resident of St. Louis.

Over the years, Bob Ballard volunteered with the St. Louis Soap Box Derby program and returned for events at Derby Downs. At the All-American finals in 2007, Bob marked the 70th anniversary of his championship in a special race, in which he defeated 1957 world champion Terry Townsend.