Soap Box Derby National Championship draws racers from around the nation

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Wilbur Shaw Memorial Hill on Indy’s west side saw plenty of high-speed downhill racing over the Labor Day weekend as the venue played host to the Soap Box Derby National Championships.

Event organizers say more than 150 soap box car racers from all over the United States were part of the three-day competition, which also featured 42 entries from Indy’s own Inner City Youth Racing League.

“This is been great for the city, great for us and great for bringing people to Indianapolis,” said Indianapolis Soap Box Derby Director Bob Getts.

The Wilbur Shaw Soap Box Derby Hill, located at 2200 West 30th Street, is the longest track in the country. 

Soap Box Derby racing is widely considered an educational activity as much as a sporting competition.

“STEM is very much a part of soap box derby racing,” Indianapolis City-County Councilor Monroe Gray Jr. said in a statement. “Our racers learn about the science that goes not only into racing, but into how to make their cars run faster and safer.”

Among the racers gathered for the event was 10-year-old Zach Bingman. For him, Soap Box Derby racing is more than fun competition. The lingering effects of Neuroblastoma — a form of pediatric cancer of the spine — make it challenging for Zach to walk. However, he’s not letting that stop him from being among the top 12 racers in the country, just a few weeks into his racing career.

“All by brothers have a sport, and I just wanted something to do, and they had to cheer me on,” Zach said.  

Zach’s car is specially equipped with a hand brake to allow him to compete. His mom says she’s proud of the hard work and dedication Zach is already putting into racing.

“He wasn’t supposed to live, and he wasn’t supposed to walk, and here he is racing cars,” said Beth Bingman. “There’s not much that stops him.”

On the opposite end of the age spectrum, Debra Houston officially became the oldest competitor in the event over the weekend. At 59-years old, Houston is nearly half a century older than some of her competition, including her own grandkids.

“I like it when they beat me too, because this is what I’m out here for, for the kids,” Houston said. “It teaches them responsibility. It teaches them to be on time and to want something.”

The racing also serves as a distraction for Houston, who is fighting cancer.

“This keeps me from thinking about it,” Houston said. “You know, thinking about cancer and chemo and all the logistics of the medical stuff.”

Getts said he and other organizers could definitely sense that racing families were eager to get back to competition over the weekend.

“I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that racing had kind of been shut down for many, many months,” Getts said. “And some of the other big championships like in Akron, Ohio couldn’t happen.”

While masks and social distancing precautions were in place for the event, the requirements didn’t seem to dampen the mood for racing families.

This was the first time in more than 20 years that the Soap Box Derby Nationals were held in Indianapolis. Local organizers hope the strong participation will help bring the event back next year.

Anyone interested in getting involved with Soap Box Derby racing in Indianapolis can find more information on their website and Facebook page.

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