AKRON: Sarah Hansen lost her first and only run down the Hill at Derby Downs in 1988 when she competed in the All-American Soap Box Derby.
Now Hansen, 35, of Fort Collins, Colo., will leave Akron a winner after being the fastest female runner to compete in the inaugural Derby Downs 5k Run/Walk over the weekend.
Collins, who considers herself a semi-professional racer sponsored by sports apparel manufacturer Saucony, crossed the finish line with a time of 17:04.85 on Sunday.
“It was a good time, but my time is going to be faster at a lower elevation,” said Hansen, who normally trains at 5,000 feet above sea level.
She returned to Akron this week with her son, Ethan, 11, who will race in the stock division representing Littleton, Colo.
Ethan comes from a long line of champions, the sixth family member in three generations to make it to the Akron championship race.
Hansen’s father, Paul Omann, from St. Cloud, Minn., who was expected to arrive in Akron on Monday, and three of her brothers were local champs as well.
Ethan is one of more than 400 youngsters and their families in Akron for the 76th FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby at Derby Downs.
Boys and girls between 7 and 17 represent hometowns from across the country and Canada, Japan and New Zealand.
The 5k race is one of several new events designed to offer something for everyone during derby week, said derby CEO and President Joe Mazur on Monday as he watched over a parade and introductions for racers in downtown Akron.
One improvement at Derby Downs this year is the addition of a new, permanent sound system, paid for with a $15,000 donation from Northern Ohio Golf Charities funded by the Bridgestone Invitational World Golf Championship.
The 16 speakers and multiple microphones will ensure everyone will be able to hear live interviews with racers and their families at the bottom of the hill, race results on the top of the hill and music between races.
“It changes the atmosphere at Derby Downs. We needed the interactive-type atmosphere it provides to keep spectators involved,” said Mazur.
Race families will be offered a discount from noon to 10:30 p.m. today for admission to the Summit County Fair. On Wednesday, racers are invited to a “Rock the Rec Lock In” from 6 to 10 p.m. in the student recreation center at the University of Akron. Kids will have the opportunity to try their luck on a rock-climbing wall, swim in a lazy river and play basketball while listening to music.
While kids are occupied, their families are invited to a Family Grub Crawl from 6 to 10 p.m. where they will be catered to by local downtown restaurants in association with Akron Downtown Partnership.
“The goal is to get more people into downtown Akron for the evening while their kids are busy at the lock-in,” he said.
For several years, rally racers, those who collect points to qualify for the Akron championship, have asked for more races where they can test their racing skills. This year, they can participate in a Rally Challenge, where they exchange wheels and lanes for a test down the hill today and Wednesday. Finals for the race are scheduled from 4 to 5 p.m. Thursday.
“The board of directors are really encouraging us to do more racing during race week,” Mazur said.
Also on Thursday, derby officials will offer an “Open the Hill” event, for anyone who wants the opportunity to experience a run down the hill in a derby car for $25 a person. A Topside Show will be held in conjunction with the event so spectators can experience seeing row after row of derby cars that are lined up and stored between races.
The sight is worth the walk, said public relations chairman Bob Troyer.
“The paint jobs are beautiful. They look like they are in a body shop,” he said.
On Friday, alumni from 76 years of derby racing are invited to attend a special event from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the University of Akron’s Heisman Lodge near Derby Downs. More than 100 past champions and guests accepted the invite.
To ratchet up the excitement before the final races Saturday afternoon, top executives, including FirstEnergy CEO Tony Alexander and FedEx CEO Virginia Albanese, will compete in a run down the hill at 2 p.m. in the first Corporate Championship. Competitors received their cars several weeks ago and were asked to paint and decorate them as they wished.
“When we are narrowing it down to the finals, we want as many people in the stands as we can get,” Mazur said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or email@example.com.