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Chasing gravity on four wheels


LIBERTY, NY — On Saturday, June 1, the 8th Annual 2019 Sullivan County Soap Box Derby was held on North Main Street.

Prep time. Clara Leroy, 10, of Livingston Manor was sponsored by MSBF Ministries

Upon arrival at the scene of this year’s event, just before the start of the race, numerous things became readily apparent to this sports scribbler: it was a true family enterprise, as parents were on hand to lend support to their kids, the local community turned out to sponsor the fledgling Dale Earnharts, the competitors cheered each other on to greater efforts from the sidelines, and at the end of each contest, the racers shook each other’s hands.

Before the competition got up full speed, race director Carol VanDenberg welcomed the crowd and four-wheeled gladiators in their streamlined aerodynamically designed machines.

Francine Nichols led the assemblage in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the National Anthem.

It was a day that demonstrated the best of American family values: sportsmanship, spirited competition, patriotism, and the involvement of the whole community, as the next generation of boys and girls moves forward into the world.

According to Town of Liberty Supervisor Brian P. Rourke, the town “is the home of the 2017 Soap Box Derby World Champion, Brianna Roth, who with the assistance of her ‘Mojo Racing’ teammates, Joe and Morgan VanKeuren won the 80th Annual First Energy Super Stock Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio on July of 2017.”

In a visual sense, The Soap Box Derby can trace it ‘s roots back to a 1914 film titled “Kids Auto Races at Venice”, starring Charlie Chaplin, and then in 1933 Myron Scott, a photographer for the Dayton Daily News came up with the idea for putting together a race for 19 boys.

According to published reports of the times in the wake of a larger race, “An amazing crowd of 362 kids showed up with homemade cars built of orange crates, sheet tin, wagon and baby-buggy wheels…”

One year later in 1934, the first All-American soap box derby was held, and the winner Robert Turner reportedly constructed his car from a wood repurposed from a saloon bar….hopefully the residual fumes didn’t add fuel to his victory.

Over the decades, the sport saw its heyday flourish in the 1950s and1960s, but today it is a very vibrant part of American auto racing culture with the annual International Soap Box Derby held in Akron, Ohio.

Fast-forwarding a few years, in 2002, the All-American Soap Box Derby (AASBD) announced a multi-year partnership with the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), the big daddy of  “Made in the US of A” motor sports.

Prior to the national race, the young racers move up the ladder from local to regional competitions, divided into three divisions based upon age and the combined weights of the cars and drivers: stock, super stock and masters.

The young speed racers on Saturday were from several area schools: Liberty, Livingston Manor, Tri-Valley, Hamilton Bicentennial, Sullivan West, Port Jervis and a lone entry from Sullivan County Community College, whose stated interests include Barn Buddy Racing.

Racing team Edward Lopez with his 12-year old son Alex from Liberty Middle School, whose car was sponsored by the Masonic Lodge.

This year’s participants (listed by ages): Jacob Kelly (11), Hudson Danzillo(9), Lorna Dewitt (13), Dylan Nichols (14), Ben Altavilla (10), James Fancher (11), Gene Fancher (8), Christopher Nicholas (7), Lauren Stoutenburg V (12), Olivia Dworetsky (11), Mason Smith (11), Izaiah Watson (10), Tyler Conjura (13), Tyler Juron (8), Mitchell Conklin(7), Evan Nichols (10), Emma Gaebel (10), Roger LynklerIII (10), Anthony Ingrassia (10) AlizaBarreto (11), James Dworetsky (11), Robert Stauch (11), Jackson Krause (11), Colin Mangan (10), Alexsander Lopez (12), Clara Leroy (10), Lucy Guerra (10), Angelica Rothberg (13), Andrew Gaebel (13),GregsonMckenna (11). Andrew Hubert (14), Andrew Freidenstein, (9), Megan Cristaldi (14), Marlee Madison (16), AlecHubert (11),CadenLevone (9), Monika Deckelman (13), Cassie Wolcott (11), Mallory Conklin (14), Morgan VanKeuren (18), Logan Park (11), Ralph Cherubino (13), Arnold Cherubino (11),Brooke Nichols (15) and Madeline Kelly (12).

Charlie Deckerman was on board in the role of ‘launch-director’, the guy who sits on the dual ramp device that once he checks to make sure everything if up to snuff, “ready on the left, ready on the right, go”, trips the trigger that sends the racers downhill to the finish line.

In fact, Deckelmam has been around soap derby for a long time, sponsoring several cars over the years, and has four vintage race cars hanging in his barn.

At the conclusion of the race, the winners in each division were announced.

On the launch ramp. Eleven-year old Robert Stauch attends Sullivan West. His car was sponsored by the H. Russell Kenyon VFW #5808.

Stock: 1st place (Hudson Danzillo of Liberty), 2nd  place (Andrew Freidestein of Youngsville), 3rd place Izaiah Watson of Liberty).

Super stock: 1st place (Monika Deckelman of Obernberg), 2nd place (James Fanche of Liberty), 3rdplace (Jackson Krause of Livingston Manor).

Masters: 1st place (Andrew Gaebel of Livingston Manor), 2nd place (Morgan VanKeuren of Liberty), 3rd place (Andrew Hubert of Livingston Manor).

According to race director VanDenberg, the trio of local winners will he headed out to Akron for the week of July 14-20, for the national soap box derby race scheduled on the calendar for Saturday, July 20.

For more informational about the Sullivan County Soap Box Derby, 1 Kaempfer Lane, Liberty, NY 12754 (call 845-292-5770) and for informational from the national headquarters, contact the International Soap Box Derby, 1000 George Washington Blvd., Akron, Ohio 44312 (call 330-733-8723).


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