Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Soap Box Derby — Life Imitates Art

posted by Nell Minow

Derby-Soap-Box.jpgIt bills itself as “The Greatest Amateur Racing Event in the World!” But the Soap Box Derby, once a popular event with racers, spectators, and sponsors, has, well, gone downhill. It began during the Depression and now has races across the country. Children from 8-17 build their cars, which operate through gravity only, no engines. They compete locally and the champions come to Akron, Ohio to compete for prizes and scholarships.
The Wall Street Journal reports that

kids today are more likely to play video games than to tinker in the garage with power tools. And audiences have other distractions. The annual race, held in July, once drew crowds of more than 50,000; last year it attracted only 15,000 people paying $5 at the gate.

The erosion of corporate support, however, has been crippling. In the heyday of the derby, in the 1960s, Chevrolet sponsored and promoted the race. Over the years, big corporate backers brought celebrities, including Ronald Reagan, Rock Hudson, Evel Knievel, and O.J. Simpson. The late actor Jimmy Stewart attended six times.

With the last corporate sponsor pulling out, the Derby was in trouble. It was sued by its bank. There was a temporary reprieve when its home town of Akron guaranteed the debt. And then, just like in a movie, a hero arrived. And just like in a movie, it was not the hero you’d expect. It was Corbin Bernsen, the actor best known for playing sleazy litigator Arnie Becker on “L.A. Law.” Bernsen wanted to help, and decided to make a movie about the Soap Box Derby, with a part for himself as a one-time champ who steps into to help a boy whose father was killed in Afghanistan. In the movie, called “25 Hill” and scheduled for release next year, the boy finds a sponsor. In real life, GEICO, the sponsor signed up by Bernsen for the movie has signed on to sponsor the race as well. Soap_Box_Derby_Racer.jpg



  • Wendy

    I think this is a really wonderful story. I appreciate these under-the-radar stories of celebrities “using their power for good.”

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thank you, Wendy! I loved this story, too.

  • http://www.kcsbd.com Debra Edwards

    Hello – I am the Fund Raising Coordinator for the Kansas City Soap Box Derby Association and I wanted to send a message to Ms. Minow. Her April 30, 2010 article on the Soap Box Derby was a wonderful commentary on a sport that my family has been involved with for over 7 years when our son climbed into his first car. We have been incredibly blessed to be a keeper of this part of Americana and I wanted to thank her for her kind words. I also wanted her to know that in communities all over the US this sport is alive with dedicated volunteers who work incredibly hard at keeping it growing for future generations. Our track in Kansas City was built in 1977 and remains one of the fastest in the US but 30 years of wear had taken its toll. Through a five year fundraising campaign our organization began resurfacing our track last week and we will be rededicating our “new” track for our local race on June 12, 2010. It is a very exciting time in our organization and Soap Box Derby and we thank her for her support.
    Sincerely,
    Debra Edwards
    Kansas City Soap Box Derby Association
    Fund Raising Coordinator
    (and mom of driver “Crazy Squirrel” Jerry Edwards)

  • Jim Cassidy

    Hi,
    I was just wondering if you had any source information regarding the amazing black and white photograph that accompanies this posting. Thanks.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    I love that photo, too, Jim! It’s from old-pictures.com: http://www.old-picture.com/american-history-1900-1930s/Derby-Soap-Box-Car.htm

Previous Posts

Horrible Bosses 2
Maybe it's just the proximity to the horrible "Dumb and Dumber To," but the cheerily offensive "Horrible Bosses 2" made me laugh. Full warning -- it begins with an elaborate sight gag as our hapless he

posted 5:58:28pm Nov. 25, 2014 | read full post »

Penguins of Madagascar
The most adorable characters from the first three animated "Madagascar" movies were the penguins, the seldom right but never in doubt leader Skipper (Tom McGrath), the often right but never listened to

posted 5:17:32pm Nov. 25, 2014 | read full post »

Coming Soon: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, the Miniseries
Susanna Clarke's novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of those delicious stories that transports the reader to another world, so enthralling that it is difficult to leave. The setting is historical, England in 1806, as the Napoleonic Wars are being fought on land and at sea. Most peopl

posted 3:58:53pm Nov. 25, 2014 | read full post »

Trailer: Jurassic World with Christ Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard
[iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/RFinNxS5KN4?rel=0" frameborder="0"]

posted 3:53:04pm Nov. 25, 2014 | read full post »

Listen In as Betty Jo Tucker, A.J. Hakari and I Discuss the December Movie Releases
Thanks to Betty Jo Tucker for inviting me back on her show -- this afternoon we will be discussing the big holiday season releases, including "Unbroken," "Inherent Vice," and "Into the Woods."

posted 6:38:57am Nov. 25, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.