They had the need for speed.
More than 45 kids took to the streets of South Slope in handcrafted vehicles for some old-fashioned road racing during the neighborhood’s annual Soap Box Derby on Saturday, put on by Open Source Gallery.
Contenders between the ages of 7 and 15 zoomed down inclined 17th Street on the one-block race route between Fifth and Sixth avenues for the all-American, Depression-era pastime in which motors are forbidden.
“It just gets better every year,” said artist Monika Wuhrer, creator of the neighborhood race that’s now in it’s fifth year. “The cars get better, the audience gets better — it was just really great. The kids really prepare for it.”
Wuhrer hosted weeks-long summer-camp building workshops at the 17th Street arts space prior to the competition, to help participants craft the do-it-yourself, gravity-powered racecars that are strictly made out of recycled materials like ironing boards, skateboards, stroller and bicycle parts, shelving units, and even vacuum cleaners.
“Every car has a completely different look and design,” said Wuhrer, who collects the parts for the handmade creative cars. “It’s very special that [the kids] are allowed to have the cars that they made themselves and that they are allowed to test out the constructions they made.”
A panel of judges rated each soap box based on design, originality, engineering, and, of course, speed, on a 1-to-5 scale. Thirteen-year-old Dany Sainz-Gootenberg of Cobble Hill took home the trophy for coming in first place overall.
But 11-year-old Jack Kerrigan, who managed to out-race the pack in his three-wheeled vehicle made out of wood and bike handlebars, crossed the finish line with the fastest time of 30 seconds.
“[Jack] said he avoided a drain that protruded from the ground and tried to hold his line in the middle, put his head down, and just kept going,” said Jack’s dad, Brian Kerrigan. “He absolutely loved it.”
The gravity-propelled summer sport, which drew dozens of spectators, also gave the adults a chance to race after the kids finished barreling down the street on the fun-filled day that doubled as a block party.
The idea of the Soap Box Derby originated in 1933 when a newspaper photographer named Myron Scott discovered some boys racing crate-cars down a hill in Dayton, Ohio. A week later, Scott invited the boys back for a bigger race that he put together, which drew a considerable crowd and tradition took off.
In 1934, the first official Soap Box Derby was held in Dayton.