It's a tradition in the Evans family. For three generations, parent and child build a soap box car together, then the child climbs in, races it in a local derby, qualifies for the All-American Soap Box Derby held every July in Akron, and the whole family goes to cheer them on.
"It's a good family project," said Paul Evans, now a retired physician living in Upper Arlington. Evens, who grew up in Columbus, first raced in 1948, as a 14 year old.
Then he and his wife Irveline passed the torch to their three sons - Dan, Dylan and Colin - who all qualified for the Akron international race, which attracts more than 550 competitors, ages 8 to 17, from four continents. Dylan, now a Powell father of four, has been the family high-finisher with a fifth place ride in 1981.
This summer, it was time for a twist on the family tradition: 10-year-old Lindsey became the first female Evans to qualify for the big championships. And she and her parents, Dan and Kelley, traveled east from their Denver home with her brothers, Connor, 17, and Shane, 14, who are also veterans of the Akron races.
Lindsey qualified by winning her division in a butterfly-emblazoned set of wheels (her grandmother contributed the artwork).
"It's pretty easy now to build the car," said Dan, who competed in 1976-80, before there were sanctioned kits that had to be used. "We had to build mine from scratch. The hardest part was getting the axles straight."
When Paul competed, he said, "The only rule was you had to build the whole car for $10."
Nowadays, the kit costs about $200, but if you win and move onto the international race, your car gets picked up and transported for free by the race organization's fleet of trucks.
The races themselves are a blur of straight-line adrenalin. A sloping street course runs about 1,000 feet with the cars achieving speeds up to 25 miles per hour. Competitors race in trios in elimination brackets.
"You have to drive straight, sink down low, and not look at anything," said Lindsey. "That's what my dad and my brothers told me."
Lindsey's championships this year went well. She didn't make it on to the medal rounds, but, said her proud grandmother, it was a fun experience for the whole family who gathered to cheer her on.
"I think what is most valuable about this is how much we get to learn about each other during the whole process," said Irveline Evans. "The competition itself is never hard, it goes by so quickly, but during the technical part, building the car, that's where the real value has always been for us as a family."
- The first soap box derby was held in 1933 in Dayton with 362 kids racing in converted orange crates with baby-buggy wheels. A crowd of 40,000 people gathered to watch.
- The national championship race transferred to Akron in 1935, thanks to sponsorship from local media and tire manufacturers like B.F. Goodrich.
- Actor Jimmy Stewart was a big fan of the event, even postponing his 1949 honeymoon to attend. Famous alumni include talk-show icon Johnny Carson, actor Frankie Muniz ("Malcolm in the Middle"), NASCAR champion Cale Yarborough, and Heisman Trophy winners Paul Hornung and Pete Dawkins.
- It takes five to seven hours to assemble a car, using one of three division-specific kits, which includes all materials. The cars increase in weight, sophistication and racer's age by division.
Though the All-American Soap Box Derby organization has endured a few organizational ups and downs in recent years, the races continue. In Central Ohio, qualifying races are held in early summer in Columbus (columbussoapboxderby.com) and Lancaster (lancastersoapboxderby.com).
You can visit the national organization's website at aasbd.org to learn more.