As the winners of the 79th FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby triumphed in their successful day of racing in Akron after beating out the rain, one derby champ hit a roadblock.

Jacob Martin, 14, of Arlington, Mass., who won the local masters division, was disqualified after the derby’s racing commission determined his car’s front axle mounting plate was drilled, which violated a rule of the Masters Car Build Plans.

Each winner in that division moved up a spot, making Kathryn Lindsey, 16, of Winter Park, Fla., the local masters champion. This marks only the third champion disqualification in the derby’s history.

Despite that, the rest of the winners had much to celebrate.

Of all the fun of the week, Joey Kratochvil, 13, who won the local stock race, enjoyed seeing his family the most.

Many of his relatives came to Akron from Culpeper, Va., including Kratochvil’s mom, aunts, cousins and grandparents, who were in tears when he placed in the top three.

“It feels great, especially now that he won,” said Joe Kratochvil, Joey’s grandfather, who has been a derby volunteer in the Culpeper region for 14 years.

After Joey won, he ran up and hugged each of his family members in a teary embrace.

“It was really good,” Joey said about winning.

One family member couldn’t be there to see Joey win, but he was in the family’s hearts. Joey received a heart locket that day that held the ashes of his father, who died six years ago. He wore it as he zoomed into first place.

“We told him [his dad] was here with him,” said Arline Rupard, Joey’s mother.

Expansion

While the 456 racers who participated this year in the derby hovers around the same number as last year, overall, there were more racers this year than last.

Joe Mazur, the president and CEO of the All-American Soap Box Derby, attributes that to the education program the derby has been implementing in STEM schools since 2011.

Kids in the schools team to build cars and learn more about racing, which ultimately ends up sparking their interest. Mazur plans to continue that expansion with a brand-new curriculum the derby will begin implementing in STEM schools next fall. On top of building cars, kids will learn about the physics of racing.

“It’s not any different than NASCAR,” Mazur said, noting that the kids set up each car differently for each particular track they race on.

Mayor’s Cup Race

The kids weren’t the only ones who got to feel the thrill of the hill Saturday.

Several community officials and organization leaders raced in the third annual Mayor’s Cup Race, competing for a trophy and bragging rights.

Mazur said the race began as a way to engage community officials and earn their support in continuing the Soap Box Derby tradition.

“It’s a way for us to get them here to get a feel for what we talk about,” Mazur said. “I’ve seen so many eyes open up about what we do.”

New scholarship

Kelly Speeg of California was one of 19 to compete in the Mayor’s Cup Race. It was her first time in Akron without her husband since his death.

Speeg began volunteering with her husband, Bill, back in 1999 when her daughter started racing.

“We just fell in love with the derby,” she said.

Bill Speeg became the derby’s regional director in California until he died of a heart attack in 2014 at just 46 years old.

In honor of her husband, Kelly Speeg donated every penny of this year’s $36,000 scholarship fund, which has been permanently named the Bill Speeg Memorial Scholarship.

Mazur said Speeg’s donation was the largest individual contribution ever made to the Soap Box Derby.

The winner in each division will receive a $3,000 scholarship, while those in second place receive $2,000 and those in third, $1,000.

“The love and support I have here has been tremendous,” said a teary-eyed Speeg, donning a button with her husband’s face on it. “They’re a wonderful group. It’s an extension of our family.”

Despite the circumstances, Speeg was all smiles as she crossed the finish line and came out champion of the Mayor’s Cup Race, flashing a thumbs-up the announcers could see from the top of the bridge.

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or tcottom@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.