The New Hampshire Soap Box Derby will hold its 76th Annual Local Championship Race on Sunday, starting at 10 a.m., from Lock Street to the parking lot near 121 Canal St., in Nashua, N.H.
At 8 a.m., two hours before the race officially begins, a track will be set up and a series of practice runs held. The racing is expected to finish about 3 p.m.
"Driving a derby car requires a high mental concentration and focus level to take the fastest route to the finish line," says Dick Behan, race director of the New Hampshire Soap Box Derby. "Many races are decided by less than one-tenth of a second, and the slightest driving error can make the difference in winning or losing."
Participants of the Soap Box Derby will mainly come from southeast New Hampshire (Dover, Rochester and Somersworth) or south central New Hampshire (from the Manchester to Nashua area). Additional racers are arriving from Albany, Keene, Laconia and southern Maine. Wherever they come from, drivers will meet to compete as they race their homemade gravity-powered cars down a 50-foot (and sometimes more) track.
"Derby allows racers to acquire or improve on skills using tools — screwdrivers, wrenches, drills, tape measures, torque wrenches, alignment tools, spindle gauges and triangulation bases — in the process of assembling a derby car," Behan says of the educational benefits of participating in a soap-box derby.
The New Hampshire Soap Box Derby mission is to instill knowledge and character in the bright young minds of would-be racers. That goal is achieved through collaboration and fair and honest competition, all of which are meaningful experiences for students to have. Since 1939, the Soap Box Derby has opened a window of opportunity for students to develop their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills.
"The stock-car kits were introduced in the 1990s to allow a car to be quickly constructed in under 20 hours of effort, in comparison to many hundreds of hours needed to build a car from scratch," Behan says of how the derby has improved over the years. "Before kits were available, you started with one box bought from the All-American Soap Box Derby containing wheels, axles, and a steering wheel. Everything else used had to be purchased from lumber or hardware stores."
Competitors are separated into three divisions: stock racers (ages 8-10), super stock racers (11-13) and master racers (14-16). Occasionally, as Behan points out, these divisions overlap in terms of age mostly due to a child's size in relation to the car. Some stock racers may be more suited for super stock cars, and the same holds true for super stock racers. Every racer is different, but each will have an opportunity to qualify for the First Energy All-American Soap Box Derby World Championship in Akron, Ohio, in July.
"One of the most satisfying parts of being a race director in the derby is watching a new racer grow in confidence and ability as they gain experience in building and racing soap-box derby cars," he says. "Additionally, it is great working with derby families, both those new to derby and those who I have known for most or all of the 50 years that I have been involved in the derby."