For Clinton resident Peter Lawlor, life needs flair and a bit of showmanship.
Anything less is boring.
Sticking to that philosophy at 95 years old, he’s aiming to capture bystanders’ imagination at this year’s Soup Box Derby with his knack for flashy outfits and a newly decorated vehicle.
Langley’s funky oddball kart race returns to First Street in Langley on Sunday, Aug. 21 along with the creative makeshift vehicles, wacky costumes and hysterical trophies the race brings with it. Lawlor will have competition for attention grabbing, as past races have seen ridiculous machines such as an outhouse on wheels, a kart built from a wine barrel and a car that resembles a bee. The straight, downhill track will be set up on First Street with a starting line at the intersection of Park Avenue and a finish line at the intersection of Anthes Avenue.
Registration begins at 8 a.m. at U.S. Bank on Second Street followed by a 9 a.m. safety meeting for all racers and crews. The first test runs on the course will take place at 9:30 a.m., with the races kicking off at 10 a.m. Awards are handed out at noon.
The derby pits two karts against each other at a time in order to prevent crashes. Races are gravity-based and don’t allow peddling, pushing or motorized vehicles as the steep hill on First Street “gets the cars going fast enough at the bottom,” according to Langley Community Club President John Lawson. The community club organizes the derby.
“It’s a speed race, but it’s mostly a fun expression of summertime in Langley,” Lawson said.
If Lawlor’s name doesn’t sound familiar, then his face and humorous makeshift cars will definitely be to those who have watched the Langley tradition over the years. The man, originally from New Zealand, is something of a celebrity to Soup Box Derby spectators due to his entertaining approach to the derby and elderly age. Lawson and Lawlor said people in Langley often come up to Lawlor asking for photos with the man himself. Lawlor has raced in the derby with numerous versions of his kart for a decade.
“I’ve always liked center stage and I do like to show off,” Lawlor said. “It gets me into trouble sometimes.”
Lawlor has always been an entertainer in whatever he does. In the past he’s expressed himself through his writing as a columnist in San Francisco and Santa Fe and through the off-beat creations he’s built in the past, including a bicycle on floats he once planned to ride across the English Channel. To keep his mind and body fresh, he often writes poetry, does yoga and constantly dishes out wisecracking jokes.
“You’ve got to be a little on the edge otherwise life is boring,” Lawlor said. “As long as you don’t hurt anybody, life should be full of mischief. That’s what gets me a long way.”
“The Whole Enchilada” is the most recent edition of Lawlor’s Soup Box kart. He rode the vehicle last year, and it’ll be making a comeback with some new exterior decorations courtesy of his daughter, Gretchen Lawlor. The enchilada car features an altar for the Virgin Mary on the back, festive Mexican-inspired colors and plastic chili peppers lining the hood of vehicle. The crowd can expect Lawlor to wear a funky outfit during the race.
Lawlor’s alternative approach to the race is in line with the other racers’ approach and event organizers’ mission to keep the Soup Box Derby a “fun, funky Langley thing,” as Langley Main Street Association Programs Manager Lorinda Kay described it. Organizers hand out trophies to all participants with a range of humorous awards; they’ve prepared 20 awards for this year’s edition. The Langley Community Club is hosting the race as a fundraiser for the club and future races, with any leftover funds going toward various community causes, Lawson said. He plans to send money towards renovating Generation Park on Third Street in Langley.
“The derby is totally a Langley thing,” Kay said. “They call it a race but it’s more for fun. The main act is this wild and wonderful race down First Street.”
Lawson says he loves the Langley spirit, which he believes is embodied in the Soup Box Derby. There are few events held throughout the year that carry the spirit like the race does; only Choochokam and the street dances are comparable, Lawson said. What he loves about Langley is it’s not just people looking on, rather people getting involved and doing things in an imaginative way.
“It’s a sweet event to keep Langley in touch with its roots,” Kay said. “We like to be fun and funky and not take ourselves too seriously, so this is the best revitalization of something that’s part of our history. We’re glad the community club brought it back.”