Start your soapboxes

Young racers take to the streets with gravity-powered cars

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2007


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  Tthe mural on Kenai racer Tyler Glidden's car was a crowd favorite. Photos by Joseph Robertia

Josette Renken and Austin Daly, both of Kenai, race down Spruce Street in Kenai on Saturday during the city's first All-American Soap Box Derby.

Photos by Joseph Robertia

Like a scene from the Hollywood blockbuster, Kenai had action that was “Fast and Furious” on Saturday, as the city held its first ever All-American Soap Box Derby (AASBD) race.

Nine children took part in the double elimination, round-robin event. They raced downhill in their gravity-powered cars from the top of Spruce Street to the beach.

Although the soap box derby is an event that has been taking place nationwide since 1934, according to the AASBD Web site, before Saturday there were only two other events in Alaska. Unalaska and Kodiak hold races annually.

“Now we’ve got one, too,” said Tom Martin, a member of the Rotary Club of Kenai, the organization that sponsored the event.


Tthe mural on Kenai racer Tyler Glidden's car was a crowd favorite.

Photos by Joseph Robertia

There are three different race divisions within AASBD. The Kenai event was in the “Super Stock” division, designed for racers 10-17 years old, up to 6 feet tall and weighing as much as 150 pounds. Super Stock racers use a “lean-forward” designed car, sold as a kit which includes nearly everything needed for racing.

“The idea is to have the kids build their cars on their own, or with their parents,” said Aaron Renken of Kenai, who had a daughter, Josette, in the race.

The reason for this, he added, is that through the process of building their cars, kids learn basic skills of workmanship and seeing a project through to completion.

Racer Tyler Glidden, of Kenai, said this was an aspect of the process he enjoyed.

“I liked putting it together with my dad. I learned a lot, especially about the steering mechanism. It was hard hooking up the cables,” he said.

Glidden, like almost every other competitor, had never raced before, but was more interested in having fun than winning.

“I’m not the fastest car, because at 140 pounds I’m one of the heavier kids, but my car is one of the coolest,” he said, referring to his ride that — sponsored by Metal Magic and painted by Fine Line painting — featured a mural of a fluorescent green, flaming skull.

Spectator William Tackett, of Kenai, said he liked Glidden’s car the best.

“I like the ghostly flames. It’s pretty badass,” he said.

While the “coolest car” may have been subjective, as it turns out Glidden was only being modest about his speed, as he went on to win Saturday’s event.

Unlike Glidden, who was a rookie racer, Josette Renken said she had raced for three years while living in Unalaska. She was also among the fastest on Saturday, placing third overall, but said she had to grow into her need for speed.

“It was a little scary when I first started, but you get used to it after awhile. Now I like going fast. It’s fun,” she said.

Renken said she tries to crouch as low as she can in the car to be as aerodynamic as possible.

“I tuck up so the only thing sticking out is my eyes and helmet,” she said.

Aaron Renken, who was helping run the event, confirmed the high speeds of the kids.

“They’re doing 25 to 30 miles per hour by the bottom of the hill. That’s probably one of the faster speeds around the nation. Ten to 25 miles per hour is the average,” he said.

The kids had a practice run last weekend to get comfortable with the speeds and to work out any kinks in their car’s systems. There also were straw bales set up along the sides of the street and EMS personal standing by in case of an accident Saturday.

May Renken, a Rotary Club of Kenai member and one of the primary people who championed for the city to have its own race, said the event was designed with the hope that the winning child would go on to race in the championship soap box derby in Akron, Ohio in July.

However, AASBD rules stipulate that 12 children must compete for a local preliminary race to be considered an official qualifier, so none of Saturday’s nine racers will move on this year.

“This is only the first year, and you really have to grow events like this, so our goal for next year is to send a driver to Akron,” she said.

Renken added that not being able to send a child to the championship didn’t mean the event wasn’t a success. Since the event was a fundraiser, money was raised toward the Rotary’s scholarship program for local high school graduates.

“Also, all the kids had fun,” she said.

The first- through third-place finishers received trophies sponsored by several local businesses. Trophies also were awarded for craftsmanship, sportsmanship and the best pit crew.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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