More than 400 local and rally champions rolled into downtown Akron on Monday as festivities for the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby got off to a raucous start.
Many of the participants represent a second (or more) generation of racers from their family.
For Lisa Turcotte-Thomas of Newport, Vt., watching the racers file from Canal Park to Lock 3 Park brought back pleasant memories of the time she marched in the derby parade. It was the summer of 1983, and she was 10 years old — the same age as the girl she’ll be rooting for Saturday.
“I had a blast,” said Turcotte-Thomas, now a 39-year old stay-at-home mother, who this year will watch as her stepdaugther, Destiny Larocque, races for the first time in the All-American. She will be competing in the Super Stock division.
Highlights of the week leading up to Saturday’s championship heats include a parents race Wednesday, family night Thursday and National Super Kids Classic racing Friday — all at Derby Downs.
“This will be a milestone week in Soap Box Derby history as we celebrate the 75th running of the race,” said Joe Mazur, president and chief executive officer of the derby.
Several hundred spectators — mostly friends and families of the 422 racers — lined the parade’s two-block route Monday. Among them was Turcotte-Thomas’ father, Normand Turcotte, a retired chiropractor, who said he has been coming to Akron for the All-American since 1979. That’s when a local race in Newport, about 10 miles south of the Canadian border, was first held.
Turcotte is the race director in his hometown, and his daughter is also involved in the race as well, he said.
Turcotte-Thomas said being in the Akron race nearly three decades ago changed her life.
“I was not afraid to be in public and be proud of what I accomplished by building my car and racing and making it,” Turcotte-Thomas said. “Even if I did lose my one heat down the hill.”
The reason the sport still speaks to the youth of today, she said, is that it is a family-oriented experience.
“There are so many things where parents don’t have the time, but for the Soap Box Derby, the parents make the time for their children, and that is really, really important.”
The year Turcotte-Thomas came to Akron, she met a girl from New Hampshire. The two have remained friends.
Turcotte-Thomas’s stepdaughter and her longtime friend’s daughter compete against each other in local races in New England, Turcotte-Thomas said.
For Destiny, a sixth-grader in Vermont, racing is both thrilling and calming. She said if she has any concerns, going down the hill in a race car “helps get stuff that worries me off my mind.”
Not only did her stepmother race soap box cars, she said, but so did her father, Ken Larocque. Asked if she thinks the derby will be around for another 75 years, Destiny, doesn’t hesitate with her answer.
“Heck ya!” she said.
For more information on the All-American Soap Box Derby, go to www.aasbd.org.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.