The race is on to bring one of the country's most time-honored youth competitions to Maryville as early as next summer.
Two local men, Shelter Insurance agent Todd Stagner and Sears employee Billy Young, have been working with regional officials in an effort to organize an All-American Soap Box Derby event.
Both Stagner and Young, along with AASBD Region IV Director Jerry VanWaart, who started building and racing gravity-powered cars as a boy in the 1960s, appeared before the Maryville City Council this week in order to seek the city's support in blocking a street for use as a track and providing other logistical assistance.
The Soap Box Derby — All-American is part of the trademarked name — is a youth racing program founded in the 1930s by Myron Scott, who was a photographer in Dayton, Ohio. His got the idea after watching kids build and race four-wheeled coasters out of soapboxes and toy wagon wheels.
The sport, regularized with track rules and car specifications, proved popular and soon moved to its own Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio, where the national championships still take place each year.
Today, the cars, which can reach speeds of up to 35 mph, are built from kits that include precision ball-bearings and aerodynamic bodies. Drivers between the ages of 7 and 17 complete in stock and super stock divisions in races that are sometimes decided by thousandths of a second.
VanWaart told the council that the program is different from many youth activities, such as organized athletics, because it usually requires the efforts of an entire family working together to build a car and put it on the track.
"You don't just drop your kid off at the football or baseball field for a couple of hours," he said.
VanWaart said assembling a car can also be a valuable learning experience, since youngsters often learn to use shop tools, read plans and employ mathematics and mechanical science while helping to create a competitive vehicle.
He added that becoming a Soap Box Derby city also requires a good deal of community involvement. As a general rule businesses buy the car kits and sponsor drivers in exchange for getting to display their name or logo on the racer.
"It's kind of like NASCAR," VanWaart said.
Stagner and Young have already contracted Maryville Middle School about hosting a sign-up event sometime in September. They plan to have a couple of cars on display along with handouts about what youngsters need to do in order to compete.
In addition, the men hope to organize at least a couple of winter workshops during which drivers and their families can pick up tips for turning their kit into a competitive coaster.
Stagner said that for the inaugural event next summer, he hopes to have at least 24 drivers competing in one or the other of the two divisions, each of which have their own age, weight and design specifications.
Page 2 of 2 - For at least the first year, VanWaart told the council, the regional Soap Box Derby organization will supply the ramps, electronic timers and other gear needed to hold a sanctioned race. Winners would be eligible to go on to the national competition in Ohio.