While Cub, Boy and Girl scouts in Sag Harbor held their first Soap Box Derby back in June, reviving an old-time tradition in the village, their counterparts in East Quogue can now be considered the seasoned pros of such events.
On Saturday, approximately 20 members of East Quogue Cub Scout Pack 261 gathered at Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays to compete in their fifth annual Soap Box Derby. The only change this year was that the derby was held in late September, five months later than originally scheduled after rain washed out their May event.
Kurt Heino, the Pack 261 Cub Master, explained that his group’s derby is different in a few ways. For starters, the East Quogue version includes only Cub Scouts, and they have two separate divisions of racing: stock and modified divisions. The stock division involves cars that are made from recycled materials or scraps, such as the wheels from old lawn mowers and strollers, while the modified division features more traditional cars that feature authentic derby wheels. As a result, the latter division typically features the fastest vehicles.
In comparison, Sag Harbor’s version followed a more traditional route in that Scouts followed authentic derby rules and regulations; for example, there was no stock division and races were divided into weight classes.
“We wanted to make this, as much as possible, that every kid could do this,” Heino said. “Those Soap Box Derby tires can cost you over $125 for a set of them. And we’re really not trying to make this a monetary issue. We wanted these kids to find scraps and strap them together.
“We do have the fundamental rules of safety with seat belts and functionality of brakes,” he added. “The steering is limited. We don’t want the kids taking right turns. We want them to have just enough course recognition to get down the track.”
For the second year in a row, Ian Recchion—and his famous General Lee car—won the stock division. Ryan Michalowski finished in second place while Brandon Erbis placed third. Cameron Albert won the modified division while Mark Sirico placed second and Seth Levine took third in that category.
Everyone went home with participation trophies because, as Heino explained, his derby is not about who wins and loses. “It’s all about having fun and building them,” he said of the cars. “The kids really do enjoy it.
“My son had fun burning my fingers with the soldering iron,” he added with a laugh. “We’re teaching them how to do that type of stuff. We don’t let them use the saws and stuff, but all the screws and glue and paint and stuff—that’s all them.”
Recchion was the center of attention on Saturday, but not just because he won the stock division again. He was also visited by someone special.
Billy Wandolowski, the owner of Eastport Plaza Deli, heard a few years ago that Ian and his father, Joe Recchion, made their derby car to resemble the General Lee, the car made famous by the Dukes of Hazzard television show. It turns out that Wandolowski is a good friend of Tom Sarmento, who was the lead mechanic and stunt man for the Dukes of Hazzard. For a few years Mr. Wandolowski had wanted to bring the original General Lee, as well as Sarmento, to the race.
It finally happened on Saturday. Though Wandolowski and Sarmento had a car show to attend up-island, they still found some time to swing by the Soap Box Derby with one of the original General Lees—the show had many of them due to the damaging nature of the stunts—much to the pleasure of both Recchions and the rest of those in attendance.
As for the derby itself, Heino says he and the rest of Pack 261 plan to keep making it a tradition.
“The last two years have probably been the two biggest years that we’ve seen,” he said. “And I have no doubt that next year it has a possibility of growing even more.”