City Soap Box Derby Brings Families Together
Wednesday, June 15, 2011 • 12:57am
For seven years, George Amadeo and his daughter, Nina Marie, have raced in the New Brunswick Soap Box Derby to help raise awareness for Autism.
Nina Marie Amadeo, who took first place in the Super Stock division this year, competed against 39 other racers from around the state on Sunday, June 12.
“My daughter started first,” George Amadeo said. “And then my son, (George Amadeo Jr., diagnosed with the disorder,) is a success story and started racing on his own.”
Racers ages 8 to 17 competed in the Stock, Super Stock and Masters divisions for a chance to win a trip to the All-American Soap Box Derby (AASBD) World Championship in Akron, Ohio the third week in July.
The local race, now in its eleventh year, is the only officially-sanctioned race in the state that sends its winners to Akron, Ohio for the world championship derby, according to city Superintendent of Recreation Michael Blackwell.
The derby, sponsored by the city Dept. of Recreation, Johnson & Johnson and Turtle and Hughes Inc., an electric supply distributor, started on Johnson Street near J&J World Headquarters and ended at the crosswalk at the corner of George and Hamilton streets.
“We love coming out to race and we are really excited,” Nina-Marie Amadeo said before taking first place. “It’s always a lot of fun and a really good time.”
Depending on the weight, set up of the vehicle and driver, cars can reach speeds of up to 26 mph down the hill, Blackwell said.
The race is a double elimination format and every race is coupled, meaning every race between drivers consists of two races, one in the left lane and one in the right.
After the two races, the winners advance and the losers are put into the “B-bracket,” where they continue to race until eliminated. Each racer must lose twice before being eliminated.
Community initiatives like this are important because they help bring families together while teaching children about sportsmanship and hard work, Amadeo said.
“I made my kids help build the cars from start to finish,” he said. “Every bolt went in with their own hands and it was a nice bonding experience. I don’t care if they win or lose, so long as they do the right thing.”
Tim Flynn, father of Masters Champion Patrick Flynn, said that more than anything, the races are for the kids.
The derby “brings camaraderie, self-esteem, pride and it shows a lot about the kids today and their involvement in the community,” he said.
“It’s a time for families to share the whole day together and enjoy not only the building part, but using our heads and trying to figure out how and what we can do to teach the driver to race competitively down the hill. I just feel it’s one of those days where everyone can come out and have fun.”
To avoid foul play, the cars are built from universal kits purchased from the AASBD, and the wheels are switched at the top of the hill before every single race.
The cars can take anywhere from one to three weeks to build, depending on the pace at which the car is built, Flynn said.
“There are a whole lot of intricate things that go into it,” he said. “The alignment, the set up of the vehicle, the weighting of the vehicle, placing the driver in there, showing them the correct position…. It takes some time.”
The cars are not allowed to be greased or lubricated after the race begins, Blackwell said during a pre-race meeting with the drivers and their parents.
Two football teams, the New Jersey Lions and the New Jersey Vikings, helped clear the cars off the track at the finish line and transported them back to the pit lanes.
“This is our first year involved in this and hopefully we’ll be here for years to come so long as they’re having it,” said Lions Co-Owner Paul Castillo. “We joined forces with the Hub City center and they asked us if we’d be willing to come down with some coaches and players to help out, and that’s what we’ve done.”
At the end of the day, Noah Ratliff of New Brunswick, sponsored by Turtle & Hughes, took first place in the stock division.
Nina Marie Amadeo of Keyport, sponsored by Race to Cure Autism, took first place in the super stock division.
Patrick Flynn of Warren, also sponsored by Turtle & Hughes, took first place in the masters division.
New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware AASBD Representative George “Mr. Derby” Rodenbaugh has been involved in derby racing since 1978 and said that it’s unlike any other sport.
“It’s a family affair and takes the family to race with the child,” he said. “People are missing out on a lot of fun if they don’t come out here and do this.”
Hollywood Night Cruisers also hosted a car show, featuring nearly two dozen cars, in the adjoining parking lot in addition to the derby.