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SHIRLEY — On Sunday, May 23, Cub Scouts from Shirley Pack 31 convened at the Center Town Hall in Shirley with their Soap Box Derby cars and helmets. Traditionally held near Willard Field at Devens, this year the group was told that, due to safety concerns, it would have to find another location.

Although the dirt road at the Town Hall is of a much lower grade than the hill at Devens, it still provided enough potential energy for the motley assortment of vehicles to make it to the bottom. The Bear Cubs’ “Toy Story 13” was constructed with rounded edges and near maximum weight, giving it a slight advantage against wind resistance and keeping friction to a minimum. The Webelos’ “Mach 7” was low to the ground, as was the Tiger Cubs’ stripped down vehicle with a half-chair for the driver’s seat. The Wolf Cubs’ dump truck, “Speed Demon-D,” had perhaps the most to overcome in terms of friction and wind resistance, but certainly weighed in as the heftiest car in the race.

This year’s derby cars were actually constructed in previous years, but the Scouts in each Den adopted and decorated a car to make it their own. Scouts Alex Scheufele, Lucas Dumas, Ben Hammar, Xavier Bingle, Dana Maloney, Jacob Blood, Liam Bourassa, Dylan Bourassa, Thomas Dentino, and Joey Komperda took turns driving the gravity-fueled cars down the dirt road leading to the Town Hall, and pushing them back up to the starting line.

Alex Scheufele, the dedicated time-keeper, kept meticulous notes on the times for all cars and drivers, but the main reason for the event was not to honor a winner, but to work hard, have fun and eat ice cream, which the boys were rewarded with by their Scout leaders after more than two hours of intense competition and a chance to “drive” each car.

According to sources found on the Web, the Official All-American Soap Box Derby is a youth racing program that has run nationally since 1934. The idea for the Soap Box Derby grew out of a photographic assignment of Dayton, Ohio newsman Myron Scott, who had covered a race of boy-built cars in his home community, and was so impressed with the event that he acquired a copyright for the idea and began development of a similar program on a national scale.

After the first All-American race was held in Dayton in 1934, it was moved to Akron because of its central location and hilly terrain. In 1936, Akron civic leaders recognized the need for a permanent track site for the youth racing classic and, through the efforts of the Works Progress Administration, Derby Downs became a reality.

Each year since, with the exception of during World War II, youngsters from across the United States and several foreign countries have come to Akron with the racers they have built and driven to victory in their home communities. Girls, as well as boys, can enter the competition.

When the race was first popularized, kids would take empty soap crates or wooden soapboxes that were destined for the trash, and put wheels on them. The wheels were often taken from old baby carriages. The first Soap Box Cars were steered by ropes tied to the axles, or simply by the placing of feet on the axles and pushing on the one the driver needed to go in the correct direction.

Although many of the designs have changed, the goals of the Soap Box Derby are the same today as they were 76 years ago: to teach youngsters some of the basic skills of workmanship, the spirit of competition, and the perseverance to continue a project once it has begun.


Judging by the enthusiasm of Shirley’s future Boy Scouts, the future of the “unofficial” Soap Box Derby is just as secure as that of the national competition. And next year, the Cub Scouts just might build some new models.

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