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Racers rev up for Langley Soup Box Derby

Phil Simon sits in the near-finished car that he’ll drive Sunday during the Soup Box Derby in Langley. - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Phil Simon sits in the near-finished car that he’ll drive Sunday during the Soup Box Derby in Langley.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Everything was set for last year’s Soup Box Derby.

Then it rained. A lot. It rained so much that organizers scrubbed the event.

Hoping to avoid a similar catastrophe, the Langley Community Club and Langley Men’s Club bumped up the date nearly a month this year in hopes that the weather will be hot and dry, or at least not raining.

Sunday will mark the downhill derby’s 42nd year, though it’s missed a year here and there.

From morning till noon Aug. 17, soup box racers will cruise nearly two blocks down First Street.

“We do it for Langley,” said Tucker Stevens, one of the organizers and club members. “If we don’t get anybody to come [from outside the city], it’s of no concern. It’s a party for Langley.”

All across the country and world, soap box derbies are held during summer. In Langley, the name was changed to Soup Box in honor of a now-long-closed Langley restaurant called the Soup Co-Op near the finish line.

Langley’s race is an all-comers event with only two cars rolling downhill at a time. Each side of the street is lined with hay bales for safety and marketing of donors’ names. Racers go down two at a time, then as the day wears on the two best drivers face off in a final heat. Depending on their age, they may start as high up First Street as Park Street or midway up the hill for younger racers.

“We want people to have fun and go fast, but we don’t want them to go too fast,” laughed John Lawson, president of the community club. “We’ve had crashes before.”

Lawson wasn’t sure what speed the derby cars hit in the past, but said they are “fast enough that I worry they’re going to get out of control.”

Phil Simon, a former North American Formula 2 professional racer, is expecting his car to be pretty speedy, though it won’t go as fast as it has in the past. The “tub” — the section the driver sits in — was taken from an actual race car.

“Believe it or not, I’ve been in this thing when it did 145 mph when it was a car,” he said.

Sponsored by Langley clothing store Big Sister, Simon will be back in the tub come race day, hoping it flies down the hill faster than the other cars. It’s one job that won’t go to anyone else, he said.

“If I put all that work into something, I’m going to wreck it myself.”

After the first-place race, the course is open for any challengers who may want to settle the score. Drivers of any age can sign up to race, with the permission of the cart’s owner, for $30 for adults and free for children 7 and younger.

One man with a car but no designated driver is Colin Campbell. Ten days before the race, his car, which was originally built by Brian Jones Ericson, was a mere skeleton consisting of little more than a metal frame, wheels, a steering wheel and a seat. At his tree canopied driveway, he referred to it as a “steampunk hobbit cart.”

Despite Campbell saying he wasn’t sure of the derby car’s final design or who would end up behind the wheel, Stevens was confident Campbell would take it for a roll before race day.

“I know Colin, and he’s an adventurer,” Stevens said. “He’ll probably take it out one night when no one is watching.”

Regardless of the outcomes, each racer will walk away with a trophy. All of them are handmade from knickknacks and trinkets — action figures, toy cars, Lego pieces, etc. — donated by the Good Cheer Thrift Store.

 

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