Speed racers go head-to-head in soap box derby

Speed racers go head-to-head in soap box derby
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Talk about home-field advantage!

Coney Island Generation Gap won its own soapbox derby on Saturday, finishing first among 18 teams who competed for prizes and bragging rights in the organization’s third annual gravity-powered race through Kaiser Park.

Executive Director Pam Harris said every team walked away with a medal, though her team took the top trophy after 6-year-old Caitlyn Robinson pushed the group’s handmade buggy the length of the 86-foot downhill track in a stunning nine minutes and 55 seconds.

Harris ascribed the victory to Robinson’s determination — and her tiny, aerodynamic frame.

“The last two years our cars were too heavy,” said Harris, whose organization helps teens find work and prepare for college. “So the logical thing was to get the teeniest driver.”

Teams sponsored by state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Coney Island) — who became so caught up in the action she raced after her car — and Assemblyman Alec Brooke-Krasny (D–Coney Island) finished in second and third place, respectively.

Other sponsors included the New York Aquarium, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the Fire Department.

More than 150 children from Coney Island participated in the event, helping to raise $4,000 for next year’s race, according to Harris, who came up with the idea for a derby in response to a wave of neighborhood gun violence three years ago.

“All of the kids coming into my program were afraid to go outside,” said Harris. “We wanted to do something positive.”

Participants said the derby was a win-win — regardless of the final standings.

“I wasn’t looking to win, I was just looking to get the kids together,” said Rocco Brescia, the president of Friends of Kaiser Park, whose team spent three weeks designing a bright green car with red cushions and a built-in baby seat. “It was a great experience.”