'Eat My Dust': Soap Box Derby Racing Returns To Bowling Green
It's nearly race day in Warren County, as dozens of people ages 8-20 in and around southern Kentucky will gather Saturday at Phil Moore Park in Alvaton. They're coming to town for what organizers describe as one of the largest double-elimination soap box derby races in the world.
Everything leading up to the 23rd annual BB&T All-American Soap Box Derby has to be done by the book, including race assignments, inspections, and car impounding prior to race day.
Four class divisions will be competing Saturday: Stock, Super Stock, Masters, and Super Kids. Stock caters to smaller children, while Super Stock and Masters allow for bigger and more experienced racers. The Super Kids race allows for those medically unable to drive on their own to also take part.
For most of the divisions, a win in Bowling Green means getting to compete at the World Chapmionship in Akron, OH. There, former Bowling Green winner and current race organizer Anthony LaPointe, said everybody calls you "champ."
"It sounds silly saying it now but as a kid, being called 'champ' everywhere you go, you kind of feel famous," he said.
It's been a family affair for LaPointe, whose sister also raced, and whose dad partnered with a friend to bring the race to Bowling Green in 1997. Back then, racers used to go down what's now the Avenue of Champions on Western Kentucky University's campus.
Now, they go down a permanent track at Phil Moore Park that LaPointe estimates to be roughtly 100-120 yards long.
"It seems a lot longer when you're in the car, but you get up and you get going. I've heard that you can get up to 35 mph," LaPointe said.
It's a feeling LaPointe said he's glad he can share with racers in Bowling Green again after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted last year's race. Still, organizing this year's was a struggle.
"I started back in October trying to advertise the race. I took it out to the bowling alley and passed out candy and passed out flyers. We did a lot of events like that, thinking that we were going to have the race but nothing got better," LaPointe said.
After a pause in recruiting, LaPointe said leadership with the Kiwanis Club of Bowling Green, the group which puts on the race, came to him to let him know the race would continue. That meant he and co-chair Jennifer Bailey only had a few months to recruit drivers.
“It was stressful. It was really stressful. It’s a lot of work because a lot of the community don’t know about the soap box derby. The kids that raced years ago—they’ve aged out. So it’s always a new group of parents and kids coming in,” Bailey said.
That group of new parents and kids includes Hannah Coulter, 8, and her mother, Jessica.
"I first heard about it when I went to the park that they had there, and I got to see what they did there. It was really cool," Hannah said.
She says it was a three-night project with her "papaw" to put together her car with all its pieces, like the steering wheel, steering cables, and brakes. Jessica Coulter said the family always encourages the kids to do whatever they put their mind to.
"We hope that she wants to do this and that she wants to accomplish anything that she wants to do. My kid's very competitive and so she wants to win. We told her to go in. It's our first race, let's see how it goes. But she's been racing some of those boys down the hill and beating them lately," Coulter said.
Saturday, Hannah will be racing for all the marbles in the 200 lb cheetah print stock car she designed her self, complete with red letters reading, "Eat My Dust."
If she makes it to Akron, she'll be following in the footsteps of former racer Tyler Peterson, who won the World Championship at the age of 15, and his sister, who placed second the year before.
"It was a crazy feeling. When I popped up, and I was hitting my brakes and stuff, and I looked back and I saw that my light had gone green, it was like, 'Is this really happening? Like, did I actually just do that?'" Peterson said.
Peterson, who is now 21, describes that experience winning on the world stage as surreal.
"I see people from Canada, New Zealand, Japan. I mean, I see them from all over and I'm just like, 'These are the best in their country,'" Peterson said.
Unlike Bowling Green, where you're not out of competition until you lose twice, Akron follows a sudden death format meaning drivers have one shot to beat their two competitors.
However, as any drivers in this story would say, it's the fun that matters.