Do not panic.
That continuous wail of sirens in downtown Akron on Monday is a good thing.
It marks the beginning of Derby Week in the city as some 425 racers arrive in town for a police escort at Canal Park for the 81st running of the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby at Akron’s Derby Downs on Saturday.
This is 12 racers more than last year. The racers — all between the ages of 7 and 20 — have competed in qualifying races to represent their hometowns and countries in the grand old race.
The competitors this year are 51 percent boys and 49 percent girls.
Most are from the United States, but a handful have traveled from as far away as Canada, Germany and Japan.
Mark Gerberich, the Soap Box Derby’s president and chief executive officer, said preparations for this week began a year ago when the last racer crossed the finish line.
The goal this year, he said, is to not only be great hosts to the racers from near and far, but also rekindle the city’s love affair with the race.
“Everybody in Akron has a story about the Derby,” he said. “But ask them the last time they came out to a race.”
The first step to help get folks out on Saturday is to offer $5 presale tickets that can be purchased at the Derby offices at 789 Derby Downs Drive or online at aasbd.soapboxderby.org before race day.
Tickets at the gate on Saturday are $8. Tickets are required at the track on Saturday only.
After the racers exchange high-fives and small gifts at the noon kickoff ceremony at Akron’s Lock 3 Park on Monday, it will be all business the rest of the week at Derby Downs as they prepare for Saturday’s run for all the marbles and the chance to be crowned a champion.
The week includes technical inspections of all the cars, along with weigh-ins and some runs on the 989-foot track.
Racers are divided into separate divisions that are determined by their ages and construction skills.
Those ages, 7 to 13, compete in the Stock Car division that uses relatively simple to assembly kits purchased from the All-American Derby headquarters in Akron.
There is another division of kids ages 9 to 18 called the Super Stock division that uses similar cars to that of the Stock Division, but these gravity vehicles are larger in size.
The final division is the Masters for those ages 10 to 20 that uses a more difficult car to construct.
Aside from bragging rights for life, the division champs are competing for some $36,000 in college scholarships, and the University of Akron has offered to match any champions’ scholarships with the caveat that they attend UA and pursue a major in the College of Engineering.
Friday, the Derby will host the National Super Kids Classic where children with special needs compete in two-racer cars piloted by veteran Soap Box Derby racers. Saturday will be busy with the final race and a concert.
From noon to 12:30 p.m., Northeast Ohio guitarist Michael Weber, a winner of MTV’s Amazingness talent competition, will perform.
“We want to make [Saturday] more of an event than just a race,” Gerberich said.
Craig Webb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3547.
Soap Box Derby Week kicks off Monday in Akron; 425 racers to compete this year
Do not panic.