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Soap Box Derby establishes alumni association

7/25/2013 - South Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

The FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby Alumni Association is open to anyone who has competed in the All-American Soap Box Derby championships at Derby Downs during the past 75 years.
Photo: Krista Galloway
SOUTH AKRON — Last year, the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby celebrated its 75th anniversary. This year, derby officials have established an alumni association dedicated to all of the racers who have taken part in the event throughout its history.

According to Rachel Whinnery, communications manager for the International Soap Box Derby, the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby Alumni Association is open to all youngsters and adults who have competed in the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby championships at Derby Downs over the past 75 years.

And to celebrate the creation of the association, she said, alumni are gathering at Derby Downs for a special reception tomorrow, July 26.

“There will be hors d’oeuvres and beverages and time to reminisce about Soap Box Derby experiences, Whinnery said. “Alumni can also visit the [Soap Box Derby] museum and hall of fame.”

Bob Troyer, public relations chairman for the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby, said the reaction to both the alumni association and the reception July 26 has been “very positive.”

“We’ve heard from about 80 [past racers] as result of our outreach to date and have about 110 alumni and guests registered to date for Friday’s event,” he stated. “People have been saying, ‘We’re really glad to see you doing this.’”

The idea for an alumni association has been discussed “for several years,” Troyer said.

“It’s an attempt to keep the spirit of the derby alive among the people who have participated over the years,” he said. “This is also an opportunity to give folks an opportunity to get in contact with some of the people they raced with and other people who shared the same experiences. I would say that it would be somewhat like a college alumni association eventually.”

To qualify to become a member of the alumni association, Troyer said, one must “have won a local race or been a Rally representative and raced in the All-American championship on Derby Downs.”

“To join the alumni association, you don’t have to have won the All-American Soap Box Derby, but you have to have raced as a competitor in the race on the Derby Downs track,” he explained.

At the 76th FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby July 27, about 430 racers are scheduled to compete. Troyer said they will join a “rough estimate” of 17,000 other racers who have competed in the All-American since 1934.

He said there are no complete records of every racer who has taken part in the event, which is part of the reason for the creation of the alumni association.

“We’re asking people to register for the alumni association,” Troyer said. “Hopefully, we can get involvement from the local race organizations from around the country. They have contact with people who have won their races. We need to develop a database of who these folks are. We’re talking about people who were here 50 and 60 years ago. So we’re really counting on getting the word out.”

At this point, Troyer said, there is no cost for registering to join the alumni association.

“That may happen in future years,” he said. “We’re literally just launching this, but we feel that it has a real opportunity — as we develop a contact list — to really become something. We could eventually do things like a newsletter or have gatherings at regions around the country where there are pockets of alums.”

During the special reception July 26, alumni will have a chance to visit the derby’s museum, which Troyer said is located at 1000 George Washington Blvd., on the outside area of Derby Downs.

“We just actually put it together last year. These are the cars that the world champions have built over the years. We keep as many of them as we can,” he said. “We have a replica of the very first car going back to 1934, and we have many of the cars from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. It was great last year to see some of the folks who have not been back to Akron for years to see their cars again.”

Troyer said anyone can visit the museum throughout race week, which is taking place this year through July 27, or by arrangement during the other weeks of the year.

“It’s not staffed and open to the public at all times,” he said, “but special visits can be arranged through the derby office.”

In addition to the cars, the museum also includes “old photographs” and plaques for the derby’s Hall of Fame, Troyer said.

“The Hall of Fame was started in 1997,” he said. “It honors about three volunteers per year who have dedicated years and years and years to derby service. As part of the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, each honoree gets a plaque with a drawing of that person’s face on it and a history of why that person is in the Hall of Fame. We make two of those. We give one to the honoree and we keep one, and those are on display in the museum.”

Troyer said there are 55 members in the Hall of Fame.

For more information, go to www.aasbd.org. Updates on the alumni association will be posted on the derby’s website.

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