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No guts, no glory at Langley’s Soup Box Derby

Greg Osenbach and Elizabeth Osenbach, owners of Whidbey Island Winery, barrel down First Street in a race against Phil Simon in the Big Sister car during the Soup Box Derby on Aug. 17.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Greg Osenbach and Elizabeth Osenbach, owners of Whidbey Island Winery, barrel down First Street in a race against Phil Simon in the Big Sister car during the Soup Box Derby on Aug. 17.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Looking like Racer’s Row, the US Bank parking lot in Langley was filled with 17 race cars and dozens of admiring spectators Sunday morning.

Instead of sleek Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari or BMW F-1 cars, the Village by the Sea was overrun with soup box derby cars seemingly made of junk and spare parts—a long held tradition in the Soup Box Derby. The name is a play on words in honor of a now-long closed restaurant on First Street near the race’s finish line. People lined the sidewalk and curbs on either side from the Inn at Langley to beyond the finish line at the intersection of Anthes Avenue.

“Great turnout with racers, spectators,” said Tucker Stevens, a member of the Langley Community Club that organizes the annual race. “The famous Rolling Thunder with Colin Campbell and Bob Bowling made its first entry. Unfortunately it was too heavy, but it looked great.”

After a rainout last year when the race was scheduled for mid-September, organizers set it for mid-August hoping for better weather. They were rewarded with a foggy morning that quickly burned away by the start of the races at about 10:30 a.m.

Needing little help from Mother Nature were Elizabeth and Greg Osenbach, owners of the Whidbey Island Winery. The winemakers emerged as the 2014 Soup Box Derby champions over the course of seven heats that lasted two hours.

Their first race may have been the closest. Facing off against former professional racer Phil Simon in the Big Sister car, the wine barrel tricycle nosed ahead.

When Peter Lawlor, 93, made his way into the staging area at US Bank, it was as if Enzo Ferrari or Jeff Gordon were in Langley. Comments heard as he took a hero’s stroll—walking cane in his right hand—into the parking lot: “Hey! Peter’s here,” and “Oh, Peter!”

The staple at the race was adorned in a gold sequined vest, a black button-up shirt with a collar worthy of Elvis Presley, and a helmet covered in flowers. Lawlor became the subject in many a photo with spectators and friends clamoring for a chance at a selfie with the living legend and his car, “Over-Ripe Old Banana.”

Near the end of the event, grudge matches took over the two-lane course. Lawlor was challenged by Gary Piper in a neck-and-neck race between a car shaped like a banana and one shaped like an outhouse.

“It was very close, but apparently Peter Lawlor won by at least six feet. My, my, my, he’s 93 years old,” said Stevens, remarking on Lawlor’s age.

As the racers pulled their cars up the First Street hill to the Park Street start line, the crowd cheered them on—none more so than when Lawlor made his way up the hill, cane in hand; the other hand balled into a fist, triumphantly pumping into the air.

Hay bales lined the street to protect spectators, homes and stores from any wayward derby cars, though they were never needed Sunday.

“No bumps, no lumps, no scratches, no bruises,” Stevens said. “Pure joy.”

The event is a fundraiser for the Langley Community Club, which uses the money to pay for various civic projects around the city. Stevens and club President John Lawson noted that the Island Shakespeare Festival and the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts are visible examples of their funding.

 

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