It may be an uphill battle to organize a first-time event, attract entries and bring out crowds, even with free admission for the spectators.
Still, Tim Sinclair figures it’ll be downhill once the public gets a look at the Johnson County Soapbox Classic, set for Labor Day, Sept. 2, in Keene.
“I was looking for something to pull all aspects of the county together,” Sinclair said. “I think we’re going to have an absolute blast.
“I don’t want you to have to buy a kit. That’s what’s really cool. People can come up with some pretty cool designs.”
Sinclair is running the classic under the auspices of the Marble Falls-based National Adult Soapbox Derby Association.
However, his race is a little different from the Marble Falls derby: it’s open to kids, as well as adults.
It’s also alcohol free, unlike the Marble Falls prototype, which drew contestants and pit crews from as far away as Colorado and North Carolina.
Sinclair has clearance to run the race on Wallen Ridge, a U.S. 67 service road in Keene. He figures the track will be about 800 to 1,000 feet long.
“I’m expecting speeds of anywhere from 25 to 30 miles per hour,” Sinclair said. “It’s side by side.”
Sinclair has been down this road before.
“In ’07 we did one on this very same hill,” with an Adventist youth organization, he said. “What happened was, dads ended up building them.”
So, he figured if the adults are putting sweat equity into the cars, they might as well be able to race them as well.
Letting the grown-ups play has worked out pretty well for Marble Falls.
“This year we had about 5,000 spectators. It’s Fathers Day weekend, so it’s a big deal,” said Shannon Heep, executive director of the National Adult Soapbox Derby Association. “We had 54 cars and 67 racers. We sell a lot of hotel rooms.
“A few years ago, after a couple of beers, they took me out and said, ‘We’ve been talking about racing miniature cars in the middle of the street for 25 years.’ This hill called for us to turn it to racing. We’ve had injuries but no fatalities.”
Their hill, which runs through downtown Marble Falls, was deemed to risky for kids to run on, but apparently it’s just right for immature adults.
“Most of our racers are older gentlemen: retired. Not all of them, but a majority of them,” Heep said.
Although the Keene race will only be able to accommodate a limited number of racers — they’ve got to re-open the road to regular traffic and Sinclair wants to wrap it up by 3 p.m. — Heep said the NASDA is sending a delegation. She wants to promote the organization and the sport. The more races, the more events her members can run in, Heep said.
Jared Hoskinson, a 38-year-old Keene resident, and his 11-year-old son each plan to build a car.
“This year we’re going to try to keep it as cheap as possible,” said Hoskinson, who’s already scouring the Internet for ideas and junkyards for old bicycles. “I’ve collected about a dozen bicycles, much to my wife’s chagrin, in the back yard.”
The derby organizers don’t require any particular kind of wheels
“We’ve ridden our bikes down the hill,” Hoskinson said. “Coasting, I’ve hit 27 miles per hour. It’s a pretty good elevation drop.”
Tony Seery of Alvarado still has the old car his then-14-year-old son ran in the 2007 event. It’s designed to look like a green New Balance running shoe.
His younger son will build a new car this year.
Seery eyed the old car fondly, examining the slightly out-of-round wooden wheel and the brakes, which he helped weld.
The nose was an old piece of Formica he had around the house. But Seery said they’re not going to try to revive the old, somewhat beat-up car.
“He’ll make something totally different,” Seery said of his youngest son.
And that’s the cool part of the whole event, everyone seems to agree.
“You want to make it out of Kevlar and graphite, I don’t care. There’s people that build a wood frame and run ’em,” Sinclair said. “You can run a bare chassis. You can use anything: bicycle wheels; lawnmower wheels.”
For rules and other details, visit johnsoncountysoapboxclassic.com.
For information, visit: www.facebook.com/JohnsonCountySoapboxClassic