The thrill of the hill at Derby Downs in Akron could not be dampened Saturday as 428 gravity-powered racers from around the country and around the world competed in the 76th annual FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby. They reflected the enduring values of the derby, the sense of accomplishment won by racers and their families, the life lessons learned in preparation and competition.
Still, it takes more than a sense of history to keep the race going, moving into the future and adapting to changing times. So it is good to see the derby, after difficult years, getting back on track and getting stronger.
Last year came the announcement that FirstEnergy would be the title sponsor for three years, the first in that role since 2007. The move helped stabilize finances, sending a signal to others in the community. This year, another big agreement was reached, this time with IndyCar, the Indianapolis-based open-wheel racing association.
The partnership isn’t about cash, but a marketing partnership will be invaluable in spreading the word about the derby to racing fans at IndyCar tracks across the country. For example, the derby will get a boost in the form of 30-second commercials on giant screens and IndyCar tracks.
The derby is continuing to reach out in other ways, too, opening its track to more outside events, increasing scholarships and promoting educational programs that use the construction of race cars as a way to teach science and math skills. It has been a remarkable turnaround, Joe Mazur, the derby’s president and chief executive, moving the iconic race in new and financially sound directions, yet remaining true to longstanding traditions.