Soup Box Derby becomes race for remembering

Tim Leonard inspects the driver’s seat of his Soup Box Derby racer

Another name in memoriam will be included in the upcoming Langley Soup Box Derby.

Organizers from the Langley Community Club, an informal group of residents and Village by the Sea enthusiasts and supporters, are dubbing this year’s Aug. 30 race as the Tucker Stevens Memorial Race. The derby has been part of Langley for decades, though it missed some years due to weather, most recently in 2013. Stevens helped revive enthusiasm for it and was an avid advocate for the event, storing the thrift store-amalgam trophies in his Third Street garage in years past.

“This is the Tucker Memorial Race, it’s being designated this year,” said club President John Lawson.

Stevens died Oct. 26, 2014. The longtime resident was active with the Langley Community Club and had organized and championed the Soup Box Derby, South Whidbey’s unique name for the all-American activity of soap box derby racing.

His absence was pronounced this year as the club prepared for another go at the short downhill race.

“It’s the first year he’s not here to do it,” Lawson said. “The board members of the LCC have stepped up to fill his shoes.”

Stevens is the second person to be added to the race’s title in recent years. Three years ago, Tobiah “Zippy” Leonard was honored by having the raceway, First Street between Park and Anthes, named after her following her death in December 2011.

Typically 10-15 race cars show up, but organizers don’t require pre-registration so most entries arrive the day of the event. By 10 a.m., the first cars zoom, wind and meander down the hill, breaking somewhere before the intersection with Anthes Avenue.

Zippy’s father Tim Leonard and family will again take part. Leonard had built a pair of racers, one from a green, stripped-down go-cart frame he had fabricated — Absinthe Minded — and another a clunking, lumbering tank more fitting for a vicious bumper car course than a speedster track — All Nighter.

“No, I don’t think I’ll win,” Leonard joked at his Saratoga Road shop, Heavy Metal Works.

Looking over the All Nighter’s sheet metal, dotted with rivets like a 1940s airplane, and black wings, Leonard recalled building it the night before a race many years back. He and his family had watched the races from the sidelines before being coaxed into building a car himself and entering with his children.

“We watched it, me and the kids, and thought we’ve got to do this,” he said, adding that the name came from the fact that he had stayed up all night prior to its first race.

“The paint was still wet and the steering was backwards,” he added.

With dried paint and a fixed steering system, the All Nighter is hard to miss during the race. Close your eyes and listen for the thunderstorm — that’s the All Nighter. Some of its sheet metal siding peeled back a bit and clunks with the spokes of the rear right-side wheel. Wood wheels don’t exactly make it a whisper either.

His and others’ annual participation in the race, whether in the driver’s seat or on the sidewalk, was a simple matter of creating moments to remember.

“It makes memories,” Leonard said.

Two years ago, the race was canceled because of a rainstorm, but returned in 2014 with vigor, sunshine and a throng of spectators lining First Street’s sidewalks. Organizers are hoping the race day will be dry, and are asking for any support they can find.

“Pray for no rain, because we’d hate to cancel it,” Lawson said.

A total of 32 race cars can participate, though that number is typically between 10 and 15. Leonard, though a professional metalworker and veteran soap box derby craftsman, said anybody and everybody should try it out at least once.

“It doesn’t take a lot,” he said.

As usual, tie-dye commemorative T-shirts will be for sale, this time with “Tucker Stevens Memorial Race” on the back. All proceeds benefit the Langley Community Club grant program to beautify and improve the City of Langley.