On homespun wheels, soapbox derby cars—made from materials patched together by the neighborhood youth—would whizz down the sloping High Street in Sag Harbor each year in the 1950s, a testament to childhood ingenuity, teamwork and tradition.
This summer—following months of effort by Sag Harbor Cub Scouts Den 455, the races will return. Local children (Sag Harbor Scouts only) will build their own cars once again and take off from the top of High Street, just as the generations before them did.
“These kids are now in a world with all these computers and things that are all indoors, and we’re really losing sight of getting these kids outside and learning hands-on experience with building and community,” explained Laurie Barone-Schaefer, the Cub Scouts leader spearheading the resurrection effort.
Soapbox derbies date back to the 1930s in the United States. The soapbox cars are usually crafted by kids and are powered by gravity.
The Sag Harbor resident said she did not know exactly how long it has been since the derby was last held, but that it is a bit of “old-fashioned fun” whose resurrection will be worth it.
Last week, the Sag Harbor Village Board gave its stamp of approval for the Scouts to hold their derby on June 30. Their request to hold a parade through the village business district and a barbecue bash at Havens Beach were also granted.
The go-ahead brought cheers of joy from the Scouts, but for Ms. Barone-Schaefer, it was just the beginning.
“It’s more than a race,” she said. “It’s something that I feel every Scout should experience in their childhood.” It is also part of a larger goal of showing the children the payoff of hard work and dedication, as well as developing a sense of community, she said.
The starting line and “race car pits” will be at High Street and Rysam Street, and the race course will run east on High Street to the finish line just short of Bay Street. (Sag Harbor Village Police did not want to close Bay Street for the event.)
The initial plan is to have five racing divisions for juveniles: 6-8 years, 9-10 years, 11-13 years, 14-15 years and 16-18 years, though they will be combined if an age group has fewer than two entrants. An adult division for ages 16 and older will be offered to encourage local merchants and municipal departments to enter. Approximately 150 to 200 participants are expected for all the day’s events.
An estimated 30-minute parade will run down Madison Street, Main Street and down Bay Street to the American Legion. A tentative list of parade participants include the Sag Harbor Community Band, Sag Harbor Fire Department Museum, vintage automobiles, the Sag Harbor Veterans of Foreign Wars Color Guard, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Ladies Auxiliary and soapbox derby racers.
After the race, the beach barbecue will be open to all racers, parade participants and their families. Ms. Barone-Schaefer said she would like to invite the Sag Harbor Fire Department Museum and local owners of vintage automobiles to display their vehicles at the beach throughout the race and post-race festivities.
“You talk to a lot of older generations and they have a twinkle in their eye when they talk about their childhood,” the Scout leader said. “They know Mr. Jones at the corner store and they could tell you about that and how they played stickball on the corner with their friends. Things nowadays have changed a lot. A lot of these kids are indoors playing on the Wii or on their video games. We’re really losing sight of how they’ve got to get out there, use their imaginations and learn about their community’s traditions and history.”
Two Sag Harbor Cub Scouts this week shared their enthusiasm for the derby, an event neither has participated in before.
“The soapbox derby makes me feel like I’m being very creative with myself, and I get to work with my Dad and all my other friends to build my own car and race with it,” said 8-year-old Tyler Mitchell. “I’d like to build a car that’s very fast and that might win the race.”
When asked what kind of car he might build, Chad Federico, 7, said, “I know already. It’s going to be a motorcycle one. I love racing.”