After three years of racing and never placing, Austin Daly, 15, took home the first-place trophy -- $300 in gift cards -- for her gravity-powered finish on Spruce Street at Saturday's Kenai Rotary Soap Box Derby.
"It feels good. I just wish I remembered how to brake correctly," Daly said, after one particularly fast heat down the hill that leads to the beach.
Nineteen children sped into summer during the double-elimination derby. There also were awards for second, third, sportsmanship, craftsmanship and best pit crew.
"I think it's awesome for the kids. It builds sportsmanship with them and confidence," said Scott Hamann, derby organizer and rotary club member. "The first time I heard of it I said we just have to do this here."
The soapbox cars, specially designed by NASCAR and sold by the All-American Soap Box Derby organization, have very particular design and weight specifications, Hamann said.
"It keeps it fair for the kids," he said.
Racers and their cars cannot be more than 230 pounds total. At that weight, some racers tear down the hill at speeds approaching 35 mph.
"It's the fastest hill in the country," Hamann said.
Weight is everything, said competitor Ross Halliday, 12, because it's the horsepower to make it down the hill.
"When I weighed in I weighed in at 229 pounds," he said. He said he was hoping the gravity would be his secret weapon, and it did help him win his first race.
"I beat him and he's my best friend," Halliday said, while his two-man pit crew loaded his orca-painted derby car onto the trailer. "I feel like I went faster than last time so I might have beat my goal."
Connor Peterkin, 11, who placed second Saturday, said that the speed is really the appeal of the racing.
"It's just fun going down the hill," he said.
For Allyssa Mattox, 17, part of the thrill of the race is the wind on her face.
"You're going down and sitting low and you only feel the road and hear everything," she said. "The closer you get to the bottom your heart starts racing. 'Oh my gosh, am I going to win this or not?'"
And sometimes there are a couple close calls for finishes, which means a rematch.
"Last year I had to race for first and I had to race five times," said Chase Gillies, 11, who placed second last year but took this year off to help Peterkin in his pit crew.
"I hope it grows and more people can hear about it and participate," Hamann said. "Every year I add something more to it."
Hamann said that eventually he'd like to see the derby get its own designated public hill for racing.
"We don't just have that many opportunities for kids," he said.
The best part of the soapbox derby, Hamann said, is when he sees the children cross the finish line with big smiles on their faces.
Soap Box Derby: enthralls racersn First-place -- Austin Daly
* Second-place: Connor Peterkin
* Third-place: Selah Smardo
* Sportsmanship award: Ben Wilson
* Craftmanship award: Calvin Daniels
* Best pit crew: Smardo team
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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