The All-American Soap Box Derby came close to biting the dust, but is expected to turn a profit of about $35,000 for its past year, its president said this week.
While tax forms aren’t final for the year ending in September, the gravity racing organization for youth is doing much better than it has in the past, Joe Mazur said.
“We think there’s going to be an increase in racing this year because it’s the place to be. It’s the ‘big show,’ ” he said.
Perhaps surprisingly, last year wasn’t the best in recent years for the Akron-based organization. In 2010, the derby cleared $152,000.
But that was the year that news of the derby’s economic plight surfaced. When FirstMerit called in a loan, it turned out to be a good thing, Mazur said: “The dominoes started to fall at that point.”
The Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce and city leaders led a fundraising campaign that generated thousands of dollars in donations. Actor Corbin Bernsen was spurred to write and direct a movie about the derby that generated $150,000 for the nonprofit.
The next year, the derby lost $111,000, in part because financial donations died down. It also was paying the salaries of two presidents for about five months of the year: Mazur, who joined in March, and outgoing President Jim Huntsman, who for continuity stayed on through the season finale, the All-American race in July.
Since taking over the derby completely about 16 months ago, Mazur has refreshed the staff with new positions that include education director, events manager and assistant events manager.
He has started a monthly newsletter, a first, that profiles racers, suppliers and tracks events.
He has set a “big, hairy audacious goal” of growing the number of race cities from the 123 of today to more than 200 in five years.
In addition, Mazur wants next year’s All-American events to include a three-lane wheel and race swap for rally racers — a test that might be expanded to other competitors in coming years to increase their race time in Akron.
He’s also contemplating a new event to drum up interest: a 5K race that would be held in tandem with race week in July and in which participants would race the derby hill and get a chance to roll down the hill in a derby car.
For the first time, derby enthusiasts — “Derby Nation” as Mazur calls it — can purchase race memorabilia online. The organization is selling mini derby car kits, T-shirts, belt buckles, ball caps and more at www.aasbd.org.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at cbiliczky@ thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3729.