There is nothing like watching an eight year old, brand new Maine soap box derby racer.
That is timid, standing close to Mom, Dad, whoever helped the driver build their stock car. That goes through the tech inspection, the weigh in and is ready for the maiden voyage. The practice run on a very big engineered hill.
The Derby Hill in Houlton Maine looks big, is if you are an adult.
Consider the reaction when you are just a tad over three or four feet tall. And there is a chill in the air surrounding, following you. That was not there before arriving at the race course called fear. Just not so sure.
Prepared the kit derby car for the day’s big race which is the next day, always a Saturday. And on Friday, for the trial runs, the helmet carried. Lugged around for the pictures, the car exam check off of the long list of safety items that can not be forgotten. But still timid moving over for not so bold. Questioning if this about to happen was such a hot idea.
Because safety is the number one concern of everyone that works, puts on the annual Maine State Soapbox Derby Race in Houlton Maine each June.
Since 1996, when there were five soap box derby race site venues in Maine, boys and girls have known the “thrill of the hill”.
And before the break in that downhill action, Maine is full of an older generation remember trips to Bangor Maine years ago. To have the same set of wheels, but everything riding on them built with the imagination and the budget, whatever materials were available to each driver and construction team.
The original soap box derby racing event held in Akron Ohio since 1934 has been the World Series of national down hill match ups. To three at a time go through the wave after wave of derby car heat launches. To determine a top winner, all the places for what is called the All American Soap Box Derby Race.
That nervous, not so sure this was the smartest idea feeling young first time down hill soap box derby racer goes very quiet.
When they get out of the kid carrier topside. The one towing the trailer of derby cars and the drivers that spill out like ants at a picnic. And car and driver get inline behind the staging area at the launch. Slowly moving forward to have their derby car rolled, to slide into the steel rails in lane one or two.
Check their helmet to make sure it is tight, sitting on their head with hair tucked under for the best visibility. No obstructions or distractions. To seeing the long, fast, airport grade paved course that drops before them. Think of being an eight year old in that position for the first time down that kind of long, fast hill. In a brand new car worked on for hours but never tested until this very moment in time. Gulp.
In this slide show image display of one by one events. That advance in the carousel that flash a glimpse of the small Maine town driver childhood. That has the support of the entire village. In derby racing, all their other events too. Because small Maine towns are connection intimately. Have to be because not enough people to have it any other way.
The last pair of racers for the trial runs on tech day, the Friday before the big Maine race tomorrow get a green light.
The launch lever is pushed forward to release and off they go. Wheels rumbling, each car picking up speed as the drivers hang up, get low and pray.
Racing faster toward the bottom of the hill where volunteers are ready to assist. Hollering “BRAKE” as the drivers cross the white painted row of lines signalling to the driver you are out of runway, pull back on the reins. Or better yet, push hard on the plunger brake with the rubber pad. To stop the car, hop out and smile ear to ear. And whip off the helmet as you turn around and look up that very big hill you just conquered.
Now it is your turn back on the top of the hill for real. Not just watching, but ready to race. In the gates, sneaking a peak toward the driver and their flashy car in the other race lane on Derby Hill’s topside. And being walked through the check your brake, helmet okay, make sure your steering wheel is straight not cock eyed to the side.
You are all alone and ready to roll.
Looking down the double barrel lane of a high powered gravity derby car race track. And just stare with a look of terror, and little like the same feeling inside on a roller coaster ride. Where there is a point of no return. Just like going over an approaching waterfalls but this time, you are ready.
Have been coached, know what to expect, drilled and trained. But. Still. Scared happens and floods the inside of the driver who have never actually ridden down this long historic hill. As one of the rights of passage of a Maine child who is nurtured by the community of race fans cheering them on.
The 180 degree change from scared on the top of Derby Hill to wow, speechless but flooded with release of any anxiety at the bottom.
That transformation, segue into years of spirited soap box derby racing is something to behold.
An amazing program to be involved with which I found out as a past derby director of the local race. The one in Houlton Maine venue the largest in the country five years running. Consider being a derby car sponsor. Helping a driver build a car. To be able to participate in a Maine soap box derby race to know the “Thrill of the Hill”.