Children crouched down as low as possible to let the wind slip by their sleek little cars during the short trip down Madison Avenue.
Keeping low is vital in minimizing any drag on the soap box racer that could cut down on a good time, according to 11-year-old Sara Fuller of Colonie.
“It makes you go faster,” said Fuller, one of 40 children ages 8 to 17 competing in the fifth annual Capital District Soap Box Derby.
The event, which was held on Saturday and Sunday, was reinstituted in 2006 after a hiatus of a couple decades, according to race director Ginger Miller. The top finishers from each of three vehicle weight classes moved on to the national finals, the All-American Soap Box Derby, which will be held in late July in Akron, Ohio.
The cars are constructed from a kit and must meet race specifications. Starting on a ramp, two cars are raced side by side down a hill, in this case, from Madison Avenue at Eagle Street to South Swan Street past the New York State Museum — reaching speeds of 30 miles per hour or more. At times, it looked like a NASCAR event, with sponsors adorning the sides of the cars and fans cheering along the course.
“All right Dana!” shouted proud mother Christina Bender of Niskayuna after her daughter finished a fast heat.
“It’s so much fun,” Dana said. “I wait for it every year. It’s only my second year trying it.”
She was about ready to race in another heat with Danny Martino of East Greenbush, who had beaten her by four-thousandths of a second in a previous match-up.
“I’m so nervous right now it’s not even funny,” she said.
Dana was part of the Blue Shark Racing team, which sported their own blue T-shirts with a shark’s image on them.
Team Leader John Aiello of Albany said he needed to recruit a driver for his car, and he found Dana. “After a couple of crashes, my first driver, she didn’t want to do it again.”
It is an adrenaline rush for the competitors, Aiello said.
“It’s Newton’s law of gravity,” he said. “It’s just a challenge to see if they can do it.”
The competition also gets them ready for when they turn 16 and can drive real cars, Aiello added with a laugh.
The kids also build up a camaraderie with one another through competitors throughout the area.
“After they get knocked out, they cheer each other on,” he said.
Emily Doty, 10, of Colonie was competing for the first time. “I thought it would be fun. It would be an experience,” she said.
Even family members were squaring off against one another.
Taylor VanDenburg, 10, of Latham was facing off against her 8-year-old sister, Madison, for the championship. “I feel proud I get to race against you,” Taylor said.
She was not concerned about the outcome.
“We like to do it for fun,” Taylor said. “At least I get the chance to participate. Many of the kids in the world don’t get a chance.”
“I feel a little nervous,” admitted Madison.
Their father, Skip, said he was proud of them both. “It’s kind of fun, watching them go down the hill.”
Skip competed in the national finals back in 1967. “I still remember it. It was 40 years ago,” he said.
Aiello noted that it seemed there were more girls racing in the competition than boys. He had a theory. “Girls are fearless,” he said.
Miller said the event needs more exposure. “I think there are a lot of kids who don’t know what a soap box derby is. Every kid likes to race. It doesn’t matter if it’s running or bicycles,” she said. The top three finishers in each division move on to national finals. The Stock Division is for children weighing up to 125 pounds, Super Stock is for those up to 150 pounds and Master’s is for those over 150 pounds.
Dana Bender won the Super Stock division. Second place was Martino and third place was Christina Morawski.
Madison VanDenburg bested her sister Taylor, who finished second in the Stock division. Third place went to Helaina Howe of Niskayuna. In the master’s division, Cory Marriott finished first followed by Nicole Rynders in second and Jessica Riccardi in third.