By: Ashley Sorce
For Ron Leonard, The Owensboro Lions Club Soap Box Derby is a family affair.
The family began their racing career in 2002, when Lenoard’s nephew, James, entered for the first time. In 2003, they added another car with niece, Lauren, who was the first to go to Akron for national competition. In 2005, another niece, Kelsey, entered a car in the race. Soon Leonard’s sons, Aaron and Jacob, both entered the race, with daughter Kaylee designated as family cheerleader.
Leonard even believes his wife, Connie, who lost her battle to breast cancer in February, is present at every race.
“Though she is not here with us today she still continues to to push us down the hill,” Leonard said.
This family believes that Soap Box Derby brings them closer together, noting the quality time, communication and team work from each member strengthens their family unit.
“It’s fun, you get to be with family, and you get to travel to exciting places, like racing in a mall,” according to Aaron, Jacob and Kaylee Leonard.
The Leonards buy their cars as a kit from the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, following a rulebook that all racers must follow when building a car.
“Soap box derby becomes your life,” Leonard said.
The Soap Box Derby is a great opportunity for family involvement with a child’s interest, according to John Austin, one of the Owensboro Lions regularly involved.
When soap box racing began in the 1930s to 1950s, the child was supposed to build the car themselves. Early car kits were not like the kits today, which include fiberglass or composite bodies with floorboards and hardware that usually requires the help of a parent or other adult.
The All American Soap Box Derby Association is the sanctioning body of the races. Based in Akron, Ohio, the association began in 1933. They govern the conduct of races as well as the rules of the sport including car construction, weight limits and distributions. Racers range from 7 to 17 years of age and compete in one of three divisions– Stock, Super Stock and Masters. There is also a Super Kids division for developmentally challenged children, a race that will hopefully return to Owensboro in 2013.
Winners in each division of a sanctioned local race earn a trip to Akron Ohio to participate in the Nationals, which are held in July each year. The young drivers are treated like racing stars that entire week, addressed as “champions.” Additionally, drivers can earn points by racing throughout the year on the Rally Circuit and thereby also earn a trip to compete in the Nationals.
The Owensboro Lions Club re-introduced the Soap Box Derby race in the Owensboro community in 2001 as a fundraising activity. The funds generated by the race are used in efforts to serve the community through traditional Lions Club eye care fundraising as well as contributions to various charities and scholarships in the community.
The new, local track in Owensboro will host Rally races and draw competitors from a broad geographical area.
“There were drivers from Tallahassee, Indianapolis, Chattanooga and St. Louis at our first two Rally races,” Austin said.