Henderson, Bruen conquer Derby Hill

HOULTON, Maine — It is on to Akron, Ohio, for two youngsters after a busy day of racing Saturday in the 23rd annual Northern Maine Soap Box Derby race.

Stephen Bruen and Yvonne Henderson both qualified to represent the state at the 81st annual FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron July 15-21.

Thirty-two young racers between the ages of 8 and 18 converged on Derby Hill in Houlton for the state’s only Soap Box Derby race.

Henderson captured the super stock division, which is for 9- to 18-year-olds, while Bruen was champion of the stock division for children ages 7 through 13.

The gravity-powered cars reached speeds up to 30 miles per hour, with Saturday’s races featuring plenty of back-and-forth competitions in the double-elimination event.

For Henderson, 16, of Houlton, racing is old hat as she has competed for the past seven years. She won the stock division in 2014 and competed in Akron that year.

“It’s awesome,” Henderson said. “I am looking forward to going back. I love everything about derby racing … the atmosphere, the people. It’s just a lot of fun.”

For Bruen, an 11-year-old from Hampden, heading to nationals is a bit of a family tradition. Two years ago, his older sister Mallory won the state crown and went on to win the national title.

“My brother has won states, and my sister won nationals, so there was some pressure on me,” he said. “This year, I was a bit big so getting in and out of the car was tough. It’s just really fun racing down the hill.”

The gravity-powered cars reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour as they race down Derby Hill in Houlton during the 23rd annual Northern Maine Soap Box Derby Saturday.
(Joseph Cyr)

The top eight for the stock division were: 1, Bruen; 2, Meghan Peters; 3, Sydney Rockwell; 4, Ava Wells; 5, Ezekiel Bullock; 6, Addyson Lynds; 7, Jacob Thibodeau; 8, Kilian Willette.

The top eight for the super stock division were: 1, Henderson; 2, Matthew Conley; 3,  Meysha Dahlk; 4, Logan Shaw; 5, Joshua McGillicuddy; 6, Leif Dahlk; 7, Caden Foster; and 8, Makaelyn Porter.

The following special awards were presented: Wayne Miller Sportsmanship Award,  Jakoby Porter; Alicia Dudzinski Spirit Memorial Award, Addyson Lynds; Committee Awards – In memory of Chris Hiscoe and Aimee Fitzpatrick, David Dahlk and Sydney Rockwell; VIP Stock (Best Teched Car), Parker Foster; VIP Super Stock (Best Teched Car), Yvonne Henderson; Best Decorated Stock, Ezekiel Bullock; Best Decorated Super Stock, Joshua McGillicuddy.

The Soap Box Derby has seen numbers dwindle in recent years. In its heyday, back in 1996, the event lasted two days and saw more than 200 racers compete.

The program got started in 1995 in Camden. In 1996, it expanded to five sites around the state, with Houlton, Camden, South Portland, Brewer and Rumford hosting events. The first year for Houlton, the race was held on Drake’s Hill, which was closed off to traffic for a two-day period to accomodate a large field of racers.

“That first year we had like 200 cars, with 66 volunteers,” said Andy Mooers, who has served as a volunteer with the program from its inception. “We had one of the largest races in the country at that time.”

In 1998, volunteers built a hill in Community Park and the race moved to that location. The track runs 835-feet in length and was designed to replicate the hill in Akron.


History of the Soap Box Derby

According to the All-American Soap Box Derby website, the idea of the derby grew out of a photographic assignment of Dayton, Ohio, newsman Myron Scott. He came across a group of boys racing their homemade cars in the summer of 1933, and was so impressed with the event that he acquired a copyright and went in search of a corporate sponsor to establish a national program. Chevrolet liked Scott’s proposal and agreed to sponsor the first official All-American Soap Box Derby in Dayton in 1934. The following year, the race moved to Akron because of its central location and hilly terrain. The first race in Akron was run on Tallmadge Avenue.

In 1936, Chevrolet and Akron civic leaders — including legendary journalist John S. Knight — recognized the need for a permanent track site for the youth gravity racing classic. That year, through the efforts of the Works Progress Administration, Derby Downs in the southeast section of Akron, became a reality.

The Soap Box Derby ran continuously from its inception until the onset of World War II. After a four-year hiatus, the all-American Soap Box Derby resumed in Akron in 1946, and has been held at Derby Downs in Akron every year since.

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