Soap Box Derby

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History of Bristol’s Soap Box Derby

The All-American Soap Box Derby was originally sponsored by the Chevrolet Division of General Motors Corporation and competitions around the country leading up to the national Derby were sponsored, as they are still, by local groups in the early 1930s. Competition was for youngster ages 11-15 and most of the cars used in the competition were built from wooden soap boxes – thus the name.

Through the years the rules have been updated as well as the different categories youngsters could compete in.

The first race was held in 1934 in Dayton, Ohio, but was moved to Akron the next year where the annual national competition, an approximate one-fifth mile or 300 meters down hill race, is held today.

The kids – now the girls as well as the boys, in different age groups and situations, design and build their own motor less race cars based on specifications called upon by the Soap Box Derby organization.  Also called the “World’s Gravity Grand Prix,” the on-going changes as time goes on produces an annual updated booklet for participants to follow. However, the program maintains it’s basic format.

Through the years, many individuals and organizations have volunteered their time to make Soap Box Derby a success for the kids of Bristol.

The first mention of the program locally appeared in The Bristol Press files in 1936 when Morris LaMothe was the winner of the Soap Box Derby on Park Hill Road. The event was part of Fourth of July events in the vicinity of Rockwell Park and Muzzy Field, sponsored by the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Bristol. Louis Kozikowski was second and Albert Riccio was third.

By 1939 in the fourth annual local program, preliminary to  World War II after which  the program was put on hold in Bristol, Bristol’s Soap Box Derby drew more than 3,000 spectators to the races, held on Blakeslee St. on July 4th. The 1940 event and the town’s Fourth of July festivities were postpone because of rain, but were scheduled for the following day.

World War II put the local program on hold, but following the war, Soap Box Derby was revived in Bristol, thanks to volunteers like Jim Kane, who directed the activity into the 1950s. The Bristol Press wrote about the 1946 event, again head by Kane, a sergeant in the Bristol Police Department. the program would be part of the “Welcome Celebration” for Bristol’s soldiers.

The following year, the Press and Kane announced that the 1947 winner would be sent to Akron, Ohio, as what was billed as the second annual soap Derby here.

In 1953, Bristol’s program made a name for itself when it was announced that the city of Bristol would have “the eyes of the Soap Box Derby world” because it was going to stage the first of 150 competitions around the globe, doing so on a Main Street course.