The North Crawford Apple Box Derby, run on Wednesday, May 18 for the 23rd time, is a sure sign that summer vacation is about to begin.
Six teams competed with their homemade racing machines. Results for the 2016 Apple Box Derby were:
1st Place: Car 5, Camo Racers 22, Driver: Miranda Olson, Crew: Deyton Blaha, Kenna Hooverson, Hunter Robinson
2nd Place: Car 1, Sand Prairie Construction, Driver: Dyami Heisz, Crew: Kurtis Evenson, Carter Halverson, Hemi Steele
3rd Place: Car 4, Plywood, Driver: Wyatt Sanders, Crew: Dryw Kroning, Beau Jelinek, Kadyn Kranbeer, Wyatt Jones
The other teams that competed in the 2016 event were as follows:
Car 2: Orange Lightning, Driver: Garrett Finell, Crew: Sever Stovey
Car 3: Linda D. Racing Co., Driver: Hannah Smith and Marco Esparza, Crew: Julia Wangen
Car 6: Awesomeness, Driver: A.J. Morga, Crew: Angie Herfel
A leadership program
Originally, the North Crawford Apple Box Derby was run in the autumn, with the first one taking place in October of 1993.
John Gibbs, retired Agriculture teacher from North Crawford Schools and Independent-Scout columnist, was instrumental in starting the grand old tradition of the Apple Box Derby. Russell Gilbert and Dale Duke joined him in his efforts.
“It’s a take off on the soap box derby with a local twist,” said Gibbs of the event.
In 2018, it will be the 25-year anniversary of this venerable old North Crawford tradition.
“It was intended to be a leadership development program within the school’s FFA program, where older students worked with younger students,” recalled Gibbs. “There was a lot of teaching that want along with all the fun and excitement.”
That first year, Gibbs remembers, there were 10 teams competing. During the years that Gibbs was involved, he thought maybe the most they ever had was 15 or 16 teams.
The winning car in 1993 was built and raced by Jesse Dull, Ahern Dull, and Adam Ghormley. The team won by successfully completing three runs down the course in the lowest elapsed time.
The fastest car in the derby that first year was the ‘Apple Box Rambler,’ built and raced by Billy Kalies, Andrea Rose and Kristina Schwert.
“It was like a Norman Rockwell scene,” said Gibbs. “Sometimes, there was lots of parent involvement, and sometimes the kids just did it all themselves.”
When the event first started, they had sponsors and every year there was a T-shirt that the students could purchase for cost. There was an all-school design contest to determine what would appear on the T-Shirt.
Eventually, it was switched to the last weeks of school in the spring, and became a sure sign that summer vacation was about to begin.
“We would test all the cars to make sure that they ran,” Gibbs remembers, with a fond smile. “That first year, there were a number that just wouldn’t go.”
Mike Heisz had a car that would steer to the left when you turned the steering wheel right, and there was apparently another one that was intended to be steered with reins instead of a steering wheel. Ryan Teach went all out on construction of his team’s car, and they even had regulation soapbox derby wheels.
Soap Box Derby origins
The beginnings of the Soap Box Derby tradition started in 1933, when Myron Scott, a photographer for the Dayton Daily News in Ohio, came across three boys racing handmade, motorless cars down a local hill.
Tickled by the sight, he invited the boys to come back a week later, with friends, and he would officiate a more formal race.
Nineteen hardscrabble racers showed up. Feeling encouraged, Scott approached his editor.
“My boss agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to let me promote a race,” Scott once told a reporter.
With $200 from the paper, he hosted a larger derby in Dayton on August 19, 1933. A total of 362 kids brought cars with chassis made of fruit crates and scrap wood propped up on wheels pilfered from baby buggies and roller skates.
According to police estimates, 40,000 people gathered to watch the spectacle.
The success of Scott’s inaugural race prompted Editor & Publisher, a monthly magazine focused on the newspaper industry, to run a story, and newspapers across the country took Scott’s lead, sponsoring their own soapbox races.
In April 1938, the Washington Star announced in its back pages that it and the American Legion were sponsoring the first derby in the nation’s capital.
In daily articles, the newspaper covered the race’s rules and tips for building a car, while schools incorporated car construction into their wood shop curriculums.
On July 23, 224 boys showed up to race a stretch of New Hampshire Avenue. Fourteen-year-old Norman Rocca of Southeast D.C. won and advanced to the fourth-annual All-American Soap Box Derby at Akron’s Derby Downs, a three-lane, 1,100-foot-long racetrack, complete with stadium seating, that was built in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration, an arm of President Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The sport sailed into its heyday in the late ’40s, 50s and 60s. Boys’ Life magazine reported in May 1959 that about three million people witnessed or took part in some form of derby activity each year, whether it was one of over 160 local derbies or the All-American, which drew 75,000 spectators alone.
As the official sponsor of the All-American, Chevrolet distributed wheels, axles and rulebooks at their dealerships and awarded college scholarships to top finishers.