When Tom and Ben Walters of Silverdale, Wash., arrived for cleanings last week, they were gleaming. The brothers had spit-shined their babies – two hand-built derby cars – and were chomping at the bit to go showcase their stuff.
Already in the winner’s circle at Clear Creek Dentistry, for keeping on top of their preventative care and maintenance, these boys also had ranked at the top of their soapbox racing division and region, respectively, qualifying them each to compete in the World Championship in Akron, Ohio, this weekend. (Click here to see video of Walters brothers racing.)
“This will be my third time back to the big race, but my first driving super stock,” said Tom, age 16, who beat out 20 racers in the Kitsap Local Championship for the opportunity. His younger brother Ben, age 11, was honored for sportsmanship locally, and secured his spot at the Derby Downs for being an overall Top 3 stock driver in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Montana.
Excited to be experiencing the thrill of it together, the brothers say racing is out-of-the-box fun. “You start with a kit and spend hours building your car, then do practice runs over and over with the club before the rallies begin,” Ben explained.
The hillside, aptly named “Dauntless Drive” (just below the Olympic College campus in Poulsbo), is a second home to the 40+ families who comprise the Kitsap Soapbox Derby Association. “It’s like our own personal roller coaster,” Tom said. “We are probably better prepared than most drivers coming into the World Championship because we race regularly on one of the only tracks with a curve.”
Walters parents, Katie and Dave, said the sport called to them six years ago when they were looking for something their whole family could do together. Their oldest son Andrew, now 19-years-old, also competed until he aged out and now stays involved by running the bottom of the hill with Katie. Dave, a nuclear engineer at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, helps build and fine-tune the cars with his sons, who also have engineering aspirations.
“It’s very hands-on and uses lots of creativity, as well as technical skills and science, to design a 200-pound stock or 240-pound super stock aerodynamic car that can run at 35 mph only four inches off the ground ” Dave said. “No one starts out with any advantage because they all use the same kit. So truly, it’s the drivers that make the difference. They’re getting great lessons in using all the unseen factors like balance, gravity and momentum to their advantage.”
Now in its 77th year, the World Championship each July brings in 450 kids from all over the U.S. and several foreign countries and continues to be held on the same Midwest track it started on. As traditional as apple pie, Katie says it’s just “really incredible to be part of a program whose goals have not changed” and that teach youth the basic skills of workmanship, spirit of competition and perseverance to continue a project once its begun. “It’s one of the few sports out there where boys and girls compete completely evenly,” Katie crowed. “We think it’s great for our boys to have the experience of being beat by girls who, in our region at least, tend to be the better drivers.”
But more than the new places they’ve visited, medals and trophies they’ve won, the Walters brothers agree the best part of soapbox derby racing is making new friends. “Our family has met so many interesting, cool people!” said Ben.
Families with youth, ages 7-18, interested in trying out the sport or joining the Kitsap club are invited to do so at little cost. “We have more than 40 lender cars available and our volunteers regularly hold car clinics to help train new drivers,” said Dave. “The season runs April-June and we only compete five weekends, so it’s a pretty low-end time commitment that is awesome for all ages.” More information can be found at www.soapboxderbykids.com.
Ready to give their all to the 1000-foot track this Saturday, July 26, Kitsap residents can watch Tom and Ben compete in a webcast of the World Championship heats, which begin at 8 a.m. EST, at http://raceweek.aasbd.org.