| Mountain View's first Soap Box Derby went off without a hitch last weekend on the Dana Street overpass in front of Landels Elementary School, and organizers plan to make the event a yearly tradition.
Celeste Greaves, 11 and Tom Nelson, 13, will be going to the Soap Box Derby nationals in Akron, Ohio next month after taking first place in their categories. Nelson rolled to a super-stock win and Greaves, the "Queen of the Hill," took the stock class.
"I've raced more than all the other people, so I probably had an advantage," Nelson said after the win. He added that others could win just as easily with some experience.
The final race in super stock was between Nelson and Kevin Barbano, 13, who was sponsored by the Lions Club. Organizers billed it as "The Lions vs. The Elks."
"Who wants the Elks?" said the announcer. "Who wants the Lions?"
In the class for disabled and special-needs children, a.k.a. the "Superkids" division, Brandon Le, 8, was the winner and will be going to Ohio. Two Superkids cars were hand-built over two months by Fortes Auto Body and the Iron Warriors motorcycle club, which is made up of local police officers and firefighters. The specially built two-seat cars are co-driven by another soap box-racer.
The low-key family event began with practice runs Saturday morning and ended with the final races Sunday afternoon. In the Landels parking lot, event sponsor Air Systems Inc. brought out a space capsule display that was an attraction for small children. Groups like the Iron Warriors and the Elks had booths selling food and drinks. And Landels loaned out its multi-purpose room to store the cars after they were weighed with their drivers Friday.
Between runs, trucks used special trailers to take four cars at a time to the top of the hill. There the cars were carefully lined up on gated ramps.
"Red lane ready? Blue lane ready? Three, two, one, go!"
The metal gates drop simultaneously, and racers tuck down as low as they can to reduce wind resistance. Because the hill has a slight "crown" to it, the best drivers don't always drive in a straight line, but instead try to follow the crown to get the most momentum.
Cars silently coasted down the hill, reaching speeds of over 24 miles per hour. Pairs of competitors raced each other twice, taking turns in each lane. In one instance, a race was won by only .007 seconds.
The event was the first in the area since the 1970s, when interest in the sport waned following a cheating scandal at the national level. The cost to build a stock class car is at least $550, organizers say, though many of the kids had sponsors.
Both Greaves and Nelson were sponsored by the Palo Alto Elks Club, which fielded four cars in the stock and super-stock classes. Clocktower Coffee Roasting Co. owner Joe Sparaco and the Elks organized the event. A total of 37 cars entered from around the region.
When asked if the derby would continue next year, Sparaco wrote in an e-mail, "As long as I'm alive and well, and the families support and appreciate my efforts, this sport will live on in Palo Alto and/or Mountain View. My team members feel as I do at this point, so it's safe to say 'yes.'"
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