Soapbox racing returned to Ben Hawes Park Saturday after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The local race offer children of various ages and classes an opportunity to qualify for the national race on July 24 in Akron, OH.
Soapbox racing was an integral part of the Owensboro community until the late 1950s when participation reached an all-time low. Under the leadership of Jim Ivey, the Owensboro Lions club revived the tradition in 2001.
“Lions Club member Jim Ivey saw a race in Bowling Green and decided he wanted to bring it back to Owensboro,” said current local race director Josh Meyer. “This is a fundraiser for our club, but we are in it for the kids and their families. It offers a competitive activity and a fun opportunity for the entire family.”
Money raised from the event assists in funding the club’s many outreach programs. Those programs range from assistance with eye care to scholarship opportunities for youth in the community.
This marks the 10-year anniversary of the state-of-the-art track that affords gravity-operated cars an opportunity to reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. Local participation in the soapbox derby was on the rise in 2019, but the pandemic is still impeding attendance for this year’s event.
“There were still several restrictions in place when we began the planning process for this year’s events,” Meyer said. “Numbers are down slightly this year because it was difficult to plan. Our goal is to get in the 40s and 50s as far as participants.”
Meyer is so adamant about increasing participation that he and other volunteers host an open track on the first Saturday of every month. The next open track will take place on July 3 and offers opportunities for kids and families who are new to the sport to experience the thrill of soapbox racing.
“A lot of people still don’t know that the track is out there,” he said. “We have between 20 and 30 cars in storage that we want people to use. We would be more than happy to help families get started and they can decide if they want to build their own or continue to use ours. We need to get kids out here. Once they’re here, I’m convinced they’ll want to get involved.”
The Lions Club and Ben Hawes Park also play host to three rally races throughout the year. Unlike the local race, rally races are not limited to participants from a geographical area and can feature young racers from all over the county.
“Our rally races are open to anyone — they operate on a point system that also allows participants an opportunity to qualify for the national race,” Meyer said. “We had participants attend our spring event from New York, Illinois, Tennessee, and Georgia.”
The next rally race is slated for Aug. 21 and 22 with a single and double-elimination tournament scheduled for each day.