Derby racers use gravity where they find it -- even if it means making their own hill

May 15, 2018

Racers Ely Campbell in the black Peninsula Memorial Chapel-sponsored "Undertaker" is about to edge Nathanael Boatright in the blue Boatright & Sons/Weaver Bros. car, while Rotary Club President Richard Peck, right, films the photo finish. Nathanael won second place in the double-elimination competition, while Ely was third. Maccoy Castillo took first place and will travel to Akron, Ohio, in July to compete for the national championship.
Credit Jay Barrett/KDLL

Racers didn’t let the relentlessly level topography of Kenai stop them from competing in the Kenai Rotary Club’s annual Soap Box Derby on Saturday. As they’ve done for the past few years, organizers created their own hill in the parking lot of the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility and the Challenger Learning Center.

“Yeah, we have this semi truck deck that has the ramps coming off of it and then with the extra ramps with the release to give them more speed right off the bat,” said Rotarian Meg Meuller, who was helping racers at the finish line.

She said the broken pavement at the bottom of Spruce Street where the races used to be held had become too unsafe.”

With the starting gates atop a flatbed trailer, the racers had about a six-foot drop to gain speed on their coast to the finish line a couple hundred feet across the asphalt.

Winning the double-elimination drag race was Maccoy Castillo, driving the Kendall Ford-sponsored derby car. In second was Nathanael Boatright, driving the Boatright and Sons/Weaver Brothers car. Third place went to Ely Campbell, who drove the glossy black car named “The Undertaker,” sponsored by Peninsula Memorial Chapel. There were 14 competitors in all.

“It’s a delight to put the race together with these kids. Our Rotary program, as you may know, or may not know, is all about the community, about youth activities," said Richard Peck, the president of the Kenai Rotary Club. "And it’s just a fun, fun, fun event that’s been going for 30-plus years, and we just really enjoy, every spring putting this thing together for the kids.”

There were five trophies handed out -- in addition to win, place, and show, Rowan Peck took home the Sportsmanship Award, while Alexander Vandegrift won the Craftsmanship Award.

“It’s a lot of work and a lot of activity for the parents and these kids every year to get these cars up and racing," Peck said.

Most cars are not built new each year, he said.

“Some are. I think we had two this year. They’re literally cars that business in the community have put together over the years and they go through a very thorough inspection," Peck said. "Last night we Homer Electric cook barbeque for all the kids and all the cars had to go through the inspection process last night to make darn sure they’re all up to snuff and that they’re up to the standards set by the Soap Box Derby group.”

As the winning driver, Castillo and his car will be sponsored by the Kenai Rotary Club to attend the national soap box derby championships, held during July in Akron, Ohio. His car has been sequestered so no modifications can be made to it between now and then.