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First-time Soup Box racer goes all-in, all-recycle

Bob Bowling shows off the racer he will enter in Saturday’s Soup Box Derby in Langley. The short course is an open soap box downhill race and features many imaginative race cars. Bowling’s is in line with his career as a rustics artist who uses old materials to fashion new sheds and garden art.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Bob Bowling shows off the racer he will enter in Saturday’s Soup Box Derby in Langley. The short course is an open soap box downhill race and features many imaginative race cars. Bowling’s is in line with his career as a rustics artist who uses old materials to fashion new sheds and garden art.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

About the only thing the race carts will have in common at this weekend’s Soup Box Derby will be the round shape of the wheels.

Other than that, each of the 20 or so racers will have completely unique gravity-powered hotrods to roll down the First Street hill on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 9 a.m.

The race, put on by the Langley Community Club and Langley Men’s Club, will celebrate its 12th consecutive year after four decades of off-and-on annual events.

“Finally, we’ve got it down to a science and can put it on every year,” said Tucker Stevens, president of the community and men’s clubs that organize the race.

The race’s name is a callback to the founding of the event and an old Langley restaurant, the Soup Co-Op — it was a small step from that name to calling a soap-box derby the Soup Box Derby.

One first-time entrant used a little science and a lot of style on his racer. Bob Bowling, a rustics artist in Bayview, has crafted one of the few derby entries that truly resembles a race car. It’s long and lean, like a 12-foot long toothpick made of cedar and rusted metal.

“I don’t even care if it rolls downhill,” Bowling said at his shop near Bayview Corner. “I just want it to look good.”

He and friend Colin Campbell worked on the racer and found several sponsors to donate to the Langley Main Street Association. Most of the materials on the racer were donated — cedar from Sebo’s Do-It Center and Hanson’s Building Supply or recycled — headers and gaskets from Island Recycling.

“We’ve done some test drives … It rolls and it steers,” Bowling laughed.

Never before had Bowling made a soap-box racer, even though he’s lived on Whidbey for several years. He incorporated his artistic rustic style into the design. Metal flashing is attached to the front like an F-1 race car. Two small wheels, salvaged from an old wagon, are up front, too. The rear wheels, each with completely different tread, are hulking pieces of rubber that came off some kind of farm equipment.

An old wooden-frame house window acts as the windshield.

Behind the driver’s cockpit is the “engine,” which is really a mailbox with gaskets, rubber tubes and pipes made to resemble and engine. The body is adorned with several painted-cedar signs with the car’s sponsors.

“The fun part was putting the ‘motor’ and signage on it,” Bowling said.

Bowling will get his chance to stick out and beat the pack Saturday morning. And he’ll likely have stiff competition as multiple-year fan-favorite Peter Lawlor will return. In years past, he has raced on a theme-like banana — the car was yellow and had bananas attached to it, and, of course, he was wearing yellow as well.

The Soup Box Derby has generated $3,000 this year alone in donations and sponsorships, which will pay for Langley flower plantings, new playground equipment at city parks, the replacement of windows at City Hall and recently the painted barrier at the landslide on Cascade Avenue.

About 80 hay bales, each with a race sponsor’s sign on it, line the course on First Street as a barrier from the Inn at Langley down to Anthes Avenue, the finish line.

Unfavorable weather such as rain or lightning storms may delay or cancel the event, though Stevens and the organizers are “crossing our fingers” that they would not have to delay the race.

Track history for the derby shows it has not been canceled by weather.

 

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