Schenectady County

Albany Soap Box Derby winners moving on

Dozens of colorful soap box racers lined Madison Avenue on Sunday as 31 youngsters zipped down a 600

Dozens of colorful soap box racers lined Madison Avenue on Sunday as 31 youngsters zipped down a 600-foot section of the street in hopes of winning the 2008 Capital District Soap Box Derby.

Two age groups, 8-13 and 10-17, competed in timed heats near the New York State Museum. The winner in each age group will compete in the world championship race next month in Akron, Ohio.

Ten-year-old Kalahri Cortina of Albany said this year was the first time he has raced in the derby. His fourth-grade class at Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys in Albany helped build his modified car. The $700 cost for the car kit was paid for by the Desmond Hotel and Conference Center. The company also sponsored other items for the event.

Kalahri was chosen to drive the car because of his good grades, according to his father, Fernando Cortina.

“What surprised me is that I was chosen to be the driver and that [the modified car] looks like this,” Kalahri said. “I thought it would be just like a square with wheels and then a brake.”

Fernando Cortina said building the car wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be. The “stock division” that Kalahri competed in uses cars that can hold kids that weigh up to 125 pounds. The cars have a pointed front and back. Cars in the 10-17 division can hold kids up to 150 pounds and have a rounded design.

“I think it’s something I want my kids to grow up and be a part of,” Fernando Cortina said. “I think it’s going to be a great experience for them next year.”

Although Kalahri graduates from the K-4 charter school next year, Fernando said he hopes to continue the soap box derby in future years at the school. The school will be able to use the same modified car every year.

“I think they’ll look to me to be like the soap box guy,” Fernando Cortina added.

Moving on to Akron in the 8-13 division was 8-year-old Ally Burdgick. The winner of the 10-17 division was 13-year-old Michael Morawski of Guilderland.

He said he couldn’t believe it when he realized that he won the competition and was moving on to Akron.

“In this, it’s all about the driver, not about the car or any of that stuff,” Michael said. “You’re actually going down a hill as opposed to being in contact [in a team sport] and getting yourself hurt. It’s a lot safer.”

Earlier on Sunday, organizers incorrectly awarded Michael a win by 0.4 seconds in one of the heats. He actually lost by that amount and told organizers once he noticed the mistake.

In the competition, two opponents race each other twice, switching lanes between heats. The racer with the lowest overall time over the two heats wins the head-to-head match.

“It’s good sportsmanship,” he said. “I felt that it was my responsibility to take that and really go over there and tell them that I did not win.”

Michael will be going to Akron for the second time in his three-year soap box derby career. The last time he competed there, he said he lost in the first round because he didn’t go straight down the hill.

“I think I will try harder this time and actually steer straight,” he joked. “I turned and then I lost.”

Kids steer the modified cars with a small steering wheel near the front of the car. Each car includes a brake pedal, which uses a system of cords to push a rubber square down on the road to stop the car. The cars in each division are all built to the same specifications, with a floorboard bottom and fiberglass shell.

“The kids build their own cars, they race their own cars,” said Ginger Miller, the director of the local soap box derby. “I think it gives them a lot more responsibility, a lot more interest.”

Watching over Sunday’s event was Mark Scuderi, the regional director for soap box derbies throughout the state.

“This is not about cars racing down a hill,” he said. “This is about building self-esteem in children.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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