They share the same birthday. They share the same induction year into the Soap Box Derby Hall of Fame. They are both longtime derby volunteers.
But when they raced head-to-head, there could only be one winner.
Jim Underwood, who has been an All-American Soap Box Derby volunteer since 1973, turned 90 on Tuesday. Bob Troyer, in his 50th year of volunteering for the derby, turned 70 the same day.
Despite years of working and mingling with derby-goers, though, Troyer had never raced on Derby Downs in his life.
That all changed when the two volunteers decided to celebrate their birthdays with a race against one another during the derby’s DQ and Subway race challenges Tuesday afternoon.
Years of derby
For both men, the Soap Box Derby has been a part of their lives for decades.
Underwood’s first derby experience was in 1938 when he raced in the Akron local race. He raced until 1941, when he ran the track in 26.25 seconds, a time no other racer has beat since.
His children participated in races as well, and in 1973, Underwood helped run the race. He has volunteered since, holding multiple roles with the derby, including serving as the control board chairman in 1982.
When Troyer was a child, he raced in the Portage County local derby race. His father, Loris Troyer, who was an executive director of the Record-Courier, was also the director of the Portage County Soap Box Derby from 1947 through 1972.
Through those connections, Troyer was invited to be a traveling chaperone for the All-American derby in 1967 when he was still in college.
After working in public relations for Firestone and Akron’s Chamber of Commerce, he was asked to be the PR chairman for the All-American derby in 1973.
Although he now lives in Chicago, Troyer still works as the public relations chairman for the derby to this day, returning to Akron every summer for race week.
“Once it gets in your blood, it just sticks with you,” Troyer said. “When I come back here for race week, it’s like a family reunion.”
Both Troyer and Underwood were inducted into the derby hall of fame in 2003 for their decades of volunteering.
Though Troyer had never raced down the hill, it was something he had wanted to do for a long time.
“I had it on my bucket list that some year, I was going to go down this hill,” Troyer said.
As in any other derby race, the day was filled with some friendly competition — and plenty of smack talk.
“Roll your eyeballs forward, it gives you more motion,” Underwood advised Troyer before the race. As Troyer walked away, Underwood fessed up.
“I’m setting him up for a big loss. I still think I’ve got the edge.”
Underwood’s prediction came true as he sailed past the finish line just seconds before Troyer. Both men shook hands at the end, and despite Troyer’s loss, he smiled.
“That was a lot of fun,” he said.
The day’s races
Every kid who will compete in the All-American Soap Box Derby this weekend competed in Tuesday’s DQ and Subway races, which they each qualified for in either their local races or rallies.
Troyer said the races were added a few years ago to give competitors the chance to race down the hill more than once.
“These are actually pretty fun,” said Cayce Bledsoe, 17, of Hopkinsville, Ky. “They give me more practice time.”
“It’s definitely been cool seeing a lot of friends,” said Dylan Theisen, 14, of Tallmadge, who was the world champion of the 2014 derby. “This is my favorite week of the year.”
Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.