The All-American Soap Box Derby gave out a third less in scholarships this year — in part because Goodyear did not provide a yearly gift.
The seven winners of the championship got a total of $29,500 in awards in July, $15,000 less than the winners in the previous year when Goodyear underwrote the bulk of the awards.
Faith Stewart, Goodyear’s director of community affairs, said in an email that the company has “been a strong supporter of the Soap Box Derby since the earliest days of the event.”
This year, the company chose to “transition our education support from general scholarships to science, technology, engineering and math programs,” she said.
Between 2007 and 2012, the Akron tire maker donated $20,000 to $30,000 to the derby each year for operations or scholarships, according to the nonprofit’s records. It changed accounting systems in 2007 and only sporadic records are available before that.
Last year was especially notable because the company gave $30,000 to create the Goodyear Champion Scholarships — $5,000 awards to the first-place finishers in the six divisions, Joe Mazur said.
Those were the largest scholarships in recent memory for the nonprofit, which has been struggling for several years.
Unofficial derby historian Jeff Iula of Cuyahoga Falls said the organization has given more than $1.4 million in scholarships over the years.
The gravity-racing program gave out its biggest awards when Chevrolet was the national sponsor — as much as a $5,000 scholarship to the first-place winner and cars to the second- and even third-place winners between 1935 and 1952, Iula said.
Between 1962 and 1973, Chevrolet gave a total of $30,000 yearly in scholarships. That included a $7,500 scholarship for first place, a princely sum that could have more than paid for four years of college in those days.
Scholarships fell to a yearly total low of $6,000 when Chevrolet withdrew its sponsorship in 1972.
Goodyear stepped into the gap between 1998 and 2002, giving as much as $200,000 a year as the national sponsor, according to Iula.
The company also provided yearly and in-kind gifts, including rides on the Goodyear blimp, from at least 2007 on, Mazur said.
In 2012, the company created the scholarship program in what was the derby’s 75th running.
“Our company is proud to recognize the accomplishments of the youngsters competing here from all over the world,” Stewart said then.
This year, the derby applied for a $44,500 grant from Goodyear. When it didn’t get the money, it returned its scholarships to the 2011 level and paid for the awards out of its own pocket. That meant that the three winners in the local race division got $3,000; the three winners in the rally division, $2,000 each. Second- and third-place winners in both divisions also got smaller scholarships.
The derby absorbed the scholarships costs this year by shaving “tens of thousands of dollars out of race week expenses” and by holding extra events to raise money, Mazur said.
Still, the derby likely will show a profit at the end of its fiscal year in September, Mazur said.
“I’m disappointed that [Goodyear] didn’t support us this year, but I’m hopeful that they’ll be a partner again,” he said.
That does not seem likely.
Stewart said the company is supporting science, technology, engineering and math at programs that include Akron’s STEM middle school, the University of Akron and Goodyear’s annual Engineering Career Day.
“We had to make some choices, and our choices had to do with STEM education,” she said.
She declined to say how much Goodyear gives to charity each year.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.