Sunday 19th August 1934
The first All-American Soap Box Derby was held in Dayton, Ohio. The national winner was Robert Turner of Muncie, Illinois, who made his car from the wood of a saloon bar. In 1935 the race was moved from Dayton to Akron because of its central location and hilly terrain. An accident in 1935 captured the public’s interest, and boosted the event’s profile. A car went off the track and struck NBC’s top commentator and sportscaster Graham McNamee while he was broadcasting live on the air. Despite a concussion and other injuries (which resulted in a two-week hospital stay), McNamee described the collision to his listeners and finished his broadcast. 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 (WPA), Derby Downs became a reality. In 1946, the town of Mission, British Columbia acquired the rights to the Western Canada Soapbox Derby Championships and the Mission Regional Chamber of Commerce, previously named the Mission City & District Board of Trade, organized the event annually until 1973. During the All American Soapbox Derby’s heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, when Chevrolet was a sponsor and famous TV and movie stars made guest appearances, as many as 70,000 people gathered in August to eat snow cones and cheer hundreds of youthful racer/builders (boys only in early years) ages 11–15 who were the champions of local races around the nation and from several foreign countries. In 1947, actor James Stewart was appearing in the Broadway play Harvey; in order to attend the event, he cancelled a weekend’s worth of performances and refunds were issued to ticketholders. At its peak, the Derby was one of the top five sporting events in terms of attendance. Starting in 1993, the All-American Soap Box derby began the Rally World Championship. The Rally derby is a grand prix style of race in which each district, ten in all, sends back a number of champions based on number of racers and races in each district. Today there are broader categories that extend the age range to younger racers and permit adults to assist in construction. This is especially helpful for younger children who cannot use power tools, as well as to provide an outlet for adults.