Soap Box Derby returns to Electric City

Youngsters race in streets for third consecutive year
Race entries are seen parked Saturday in the Capital District All-American Soap Box Derby, on Franklin Street in Schenectady.
Race entries are seen parked Saturday in the Capital District All-American Soap Box Derby, on Franklin Street in Schenectady.

Categories: Life & Arts, News, Schenectady County

Saturday morning was fast-paced for staff and volunteers at the Capital Region’s 11th annual Soap Box Derby.

Soap box cars were loaded onto ramps at the top of the hill. Drivers hopped into their cars as parents and guardians mentally prepped them, while others checked for possible malfunctions.

Cones and tires were lined up, creating two lanes for competing drivers and served as a safety precaution in case the drivers lost control.

Parents and bystanders cheered for racers as they made their way down Franklin Street, their eyes concentrated on the finish line. Many made it down successfully; a few crashed into the haystacks at the bottom of the hill with no injuries, one into a poll.

This is the third year that the annual competition has been held in Schenectady.

The competition was resurrected in Albany in 2006 and was moved to Schenectady in 2016.

Rthaniel Richard, 6, of Troy is one of the youngest stock division racers. He said his goal was to make it to the finals. He had already won four races by 11:30 a.m.

”I’m so excited for him and being here to support him,” said his mother, Mirlene Richard. “He’s always loved racing and always loved fast cars.”

Richard’s husband is a member of one of the four local chapters of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the first African-American group to run a Soap Box Derby in the nation. Part of their goal is to teach racers STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) skills through the sport of gravity racing.

Some of the racers are students from Schenectady City School District who participate in the “My Brothers Keeper” program.

At the bottom of the hill was Joe Norfleet, directing volunteers and waving a checkered flag to signal when a race was beginning. This was his 11th year as a flag holder and his first year working with the new director of the race, Paul Webster.

Norfleet said previous years were run by former director, Ginger Miller. After the death of her son, former assistant director Joe Miller, she found it too difficult to be at today’s race, Norfleet said.

The All-American Soap Box Derby is a youth racing program that has been held since 1934 and has a long history in Schenectady and the Capitol Region with races dating back to post World War II before dying out in the 1970s.

The champion of Saturday’s race advances to Akron, Ohio, where other champions compete in the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby.

Other competitions are being held in Glens Falls, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Port Jervis, Jamestown, Middletown and Staten Island.

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