All-American Soap Box Derby announcer Mark Richards started chuckling.
He had just announced to the crowd that one of the racer's interests was Mexican cat wrestling.
''Mexican cat wrestling?'' Richards asked over the P.A. system. ''It's not quite as bad as cat juggling, I guess.''
He mused that he had announced plenty of sports but had never heard of it.
Then he started laughing. So much so, he had to recompose himself. He apologized to the crowd for the distraction.
''That's going to be on my mind the rest of the day,'' he announced.
Richards made sure he announced little tidbits so the crowd could get to know the racers a bit more.
The boys and girls were instructed to provide the All-American with some personal information.
Please see Funny, A4
They were asked to describe a profession they wanted to pursue when they are adults. There were a few future teachers, veterinarians and race-car drivers in the bunch. But there were also youngsters who liked to kid with authorities — offering silly dream jobs, such as the longing to be an ''elevator tester'' and ''professional weightlifter.''
Carrying on with the light-hearted theme, Richards routinely shared with the crowd some of the racers' talents.
One young man could ''lick his elbow and put his foot behind his head.''
''If you can lick your elbow while driving . . . we will all be impressed,'' Richards joked, adding that sometimes he feels as if he's on David Letterman's Late Show.
Rain and sun
Raincoats were a hot item in the morning.
By 9 a.m., the folks from Akron's Personalized Safety Services had sold 120.
''We could have sold 200,'' said Dale Hendershot, a few drops of the wet stuff landing on his neon green shirt.
The coats were sold for $1, the proceeds to benefit the derby.
Though there was no need for the raincoats in the morning, by early afternoon spectators were using umbrellas to block themselves from the sun.
But the coats did come in handy. About 2 p.m., the race was delayed about 10 minutes because of a short cloudburst.
Skidding to a stop
Rally stock racer Collin Burgheimer got a big hoot from the crowd when he slammed on his brake just past the finish line.
He skidded to a quick, early stop so all the crowd could see.
''I kinda did it on purpose,'' admitted Collin, 9, of Mesa, Ariz.
He got a big hug from his mom after the race. She just rolled her eyes when asked about his stunt.
''I wasn't that surprised,'' Kathy Burgheimer said. ''He likes attention and he got it.''
Think it's tough waiting in the large crowds for your favorite racer to appear?
That's nothing compared to waiting in the long line of racers at the top of the hill.
''Nerve-racking,'' father Dave Grauel of Eastlake said as he held his son Matt's 87-pound derby car.
Just like an assembly line, racers inched forward one by one.
''I just want to go down the hill so bad,'' Matt said.
Always a champ
Of course, there can only be one winner per three-car heat.
That means two losers.
While the winners get a special ride back to the top of the hill, the losers take a long walk along the track to meet their parents. They were escorted by volunteers wearing neon green ''Champ Support'' T-shirts.
Some kids wept. Some had smiles on their faces no matter what.
The volunteers try to make that walk as cheerful as possible.
''We say, 'Once a champ, you're always a champ,' '' said volunteer Abbey Liertz, 14, of Waterford, Wis.
''We say, 'You're still a champion,' '' added volunteer Anna Heritage, 15, of Mantua.
Who takes losing the hardest? Abbey and Anna agreed it was the first-time racers.
Just having fun
As for Mexican cat wrestling? There is no such thing.
''Not that I know of,'' laughed rally masters racer Jack Rasmussen, who had written it down as one of his interests.
Jack, 15, of Omaha, Neb., could hear the announcer chuckling as he sped down the hill. And Jack got a chuckle out of that.
He and his family just like to have fun at the derby, he said.
So he made up the sport.
Kim-Hone McMahan can be reached at 330-9996-3742 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com