South Slope Gearing Up for Annual Soap Box Derby
PARK SLOPE — In a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting, the South Slope is gearing up to host a genuine soap box derby.
Neighborhood kids will indulge in some Depression-era Americana on Aug. 10 when soap box derby contestants will barrel down 17th Street between Sixth and Fifth avenues.
The handmade vehicles must use only gravity and elbow grease to get to the finish line — motors are strictly forbidden.
The annual race, now in its fifth year, is hosted by Open Source Gallery. The gallery also runs a series of workshops to teach kids how to make their own soap box vehicles.
Kids are invited to bring in anything with wheels, from strollers to vacuum cleaners, then they get lessons on how to take apart and rebuild the machines into people-powered contraptions, said Open Source Gallery director Monika Wuhrer.
Over the years, racers have used recycled ironing boards and toy horses to build the carts.
"We help them put everything back together again in a different way," Wuhrer said. "It's a long process, because everything doesn't always work, but that’s the fun of it – it's like a scramble. That's how you learn."
On race day, a panel of judges rates contestants on categories including engineering prowess, originality and design. Points are also assigned for speed, of course.
The soap box derby tradition dates back to 1933. The gravity-assisted sport got its start when a news photographer in Akron, Ohio stumbled across some boys racing homemade carts. Now the Midwestern town is home to a soap box derby race track, built by the Works Progress Administration, that fields national competitions.
As modern childhood becomes increasingly awash in iPads and other screen-based entertainment, the soap box derby gives kids a chance to learn hands-on building skills and simple physics, Wuhrer said.
"This is something every kid has to experience," Wuhrer said. "Making stuff with your own hands is very important, not just for kids. It's a good to skill to have at any age. Being able to fix something is never bad."
Open Source Gallery will host the next workshop on how to build soap box derby vehicles from Aug. 5 - Aug. 9. The soap box derby is on Aug. 10, on 17th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues.