Soap box crash and return

Wild practice run doesn't deter Soldotna youth
Brenner Furlong competes in the Kenai Rotary Soap Box Derby earlier this year.

It is not easy to get out of a Soap Box Derby car, never mind get flung from one. But when it disintegrates around the driver as it flips 35 miles per hour down the track, getting out of the car is not much of a hassle anymore.


That is what happened to 12-year-old Brenner Furlong from Soldotna.

Last week at the 75th annual All-American Soap Box Derby World Championship in Akron, Ohio, Brenner was taking his trial run down the racetrack.

As he rolled down the left lane, he had his head tucked down and his eyes ahead on the finish line.

Then he felt his wheel nudge the guard rails. He tried to steer out of it, but it kept pulling.

Then it hooked up, he said, and his wheel cracked, shooting him to the other side of the track head on into the guard rails.

That’s when his car flipped and crumbled. 

When the paramedics got to Brenner, he only had one question: “Can I keep racing?”

They were so baffled by his tenacity, that they didn’t know how to react, he said, so they told him to take the rest of the day off.

“The only thing that wasn’t hurt was the floor board (of his car) and his spirit,” said David Hutchings of Hutchings Auto Group, which supplied Brenner with his car.

Somehow Brenner managed to escape the wreckage with only scrapes to his face, arms and leg. When he returned home, he was even still able to attend football practice.

The rest of the car, however, was in pieces so small that the parts were not even worth shipping back home, said his mother, Shelly Furlong. He was also left without a car for his heat on Saturday. 

Fortunately, shortly after the wreck, Golden Corral, a restaurant chain and race sponsor, said they could build him a car in time.

“I don’t know how they did it so fast,” he said. “It looked like a two-week paint job, but it took them two days. ... Every nut to every bolt, they had to do everything.”

When race day came, Brenner nearly won his heat.

“I just lost by two, three inches,” he said. It was a photo finish, his mother said. 

But because it was a one-heat race, he was bumped from qualifying.

Before the championship, Brenner had only driven his car eight or nine times. And before arriving in Ohio, he said there had never been a car that flipped, only ones that hit the guard rails or spin out. And even that only happens once a year, he said.

Despite his accident, Brenner is actually enthralled by the sport that his grandfather recently introduced to him. He wishes it would gain traction in Alaska.

Everyone at the race, he said, were good people from across the nation, and world. 

“Everyone there is a good kid,” he said. 

He met other racers from Texas, New York, Washington, Mississippi, even Germany and New Zealand. 

“There’s nothing else like it,” he said. “It’s its own thing.”



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