By Alfred Ng
Maybe they should call it Park Peak!
Last Saturday, the gentle slope of 17th Street was transformed into a racetrack featuring soapboxes made from all manners of junk — and 8-year-old Jason Quan crushed the competition and rolled away with the big trophy.
And what a trophy it was: square, pink, and made from the same valuable material that comprises the best soapbox racers themselves — trash.
Spectators marvelled at how fast Quan completed the one-block race route between Fifth and Sixth avenues — he was the only one to finish in under a minute.
“His cart was like a small bicycle,” said our eagle-eyed shutterbug, Stefano Giovannini, who could barely capture the speed demon on film. “It was much faster than everyone else’s.”
Quan’s soapbox was simple: a three-wheeled wooden plank with bicycle handles in the front. It might not have been as intricate as the others, but the kid-engineered soapbox finished twice as fast as the competition’s.
“The car was light and the wheels were fast,” Quan said, sharing his design secrets.
“I was so excited to win! I hope I can race again next year.”
More than 20 kids participated, with creative soapboxes featuring names like NASA, Golden Hobo and CrocCar. Some had wheelchairs attached, bicycle parts and one even bore the “Ghostbusters” insignia. Gio Rescigno’s soapbox, simply named “Pie,” resembled a muscle car (though was far slower). Harry Grad’s soapbox was a hobo’s dream: an electric fan-powered shopping cart filled with recyclable cans. Five judges rated each soapbox based on design, originality, engineering and speed, on a 1-to-5 scale. Grad’s did well — though it took him a practically glacial two minutes to complete the course.
The annual derby — a standard summertime rite of Middle America — started in 2008, when the Open Source Gallery hosted a six-week soapbox building camp.
“We decided to have a race at the annual 17th Street block party,” said Monica Wehrer, founder of the Open Source Gallery. “The streets were perfect and it all came together.”
Well, not everything: The long-awaited adults-only race was a bit of a washout, as only three “kids” of advanced age showed up to put their mettel to the metal.