Some had been waiting for 50 years to climb into a wooden crate and speed downhill at 30 mph.

On Thursday at Derby Downs in Akron, they finally got their chance during Senior Day, an opportunity for adults to enjoy lunch, entertainment, health information booths and health screenings and take a trip downhill in an adult Soap Box Derby car.

Last year, the event sold out, and this year, there were more than 300 participants.

Mark Gerberich, president and CEO of the Soap Box Derby, said many of the Senior Day participants have known about the derby since they were children. Senior Day gives them a chance to create a memory.

It's been running for six years and will continue, he said.

"They've experienced Akron and the Soap Box Derby for such a long time and it's on the bucket list and it's something they want to do," Gerberich said. "Meaningful experiences are part of our mission."

A few years ago, the Soap Box Derby was operating on thin ice. The organization was deep in debt and its future in question.

But good stewardship and sponsorships from FirstEnergy Corp. and others have put the derby on a steady path. Events like Thursday's have helped shore up the Akron organization's bottom line.

For Senior Day, which costs racers $15 each, Legacy Motors of Akron, Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls and Danbury Senior Living stepped up to the plate with sponsorships.

After their spin down the hill, Cindi and Joe Pritt of Green and Charlene and Tom Calabrese of Green sat discussing their races.

They were all, to varying degrees, surprised by the speed of the derby cars.

"It was like Cedar Point," Cindi Pritt said. "I put my brakes on too quickly."

Her husband, Joe Pritt, said he'd always been curious about the experience.

"I always wondered what it would be like to go down the hill," he said. "You [do] pick up some speed."

Charlene Calabrese said her competitive spirit emerged.

"I see Cindi [Pritt] ahead of me, and I ducked my head down," said Calabrese, who did not win her race. "I loved every minute of it and I would go again."

Her husband, Tom Calabrese, didn't have the competitive fire of his wife, but he enjoyed the ride. Next year, the group said, they hope to encourage more friends to participate.

Gerberich said every event the Soap Box Derby holds is costly, which makes corporate assistance so valuable to the organization.

"They're real expensive to put on," he said. ''The sponsorships are really what carries us through."

Gerberich said the organization is developing an autonomous racing division that may eventually be added to the annual All-American Soap Box Derby. A robotic racer creates interest among young students and provides opportunity to make inroads with school programs, he said.

About 700 schools involving 20,000 students are exposed to the Soap Box Derby through in- or after-school programs, Gerberich said.

Children are the stars and remain the focus of the organization, but seniors may be the most appreciative of the derby experience.

"We all want to be kids," Charlene Calabrese said.

 

Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or emailed at aashworth@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconjourna.