Rather than tension and revved engines, the races that took over Langley this past weekend were preceded by light-hearted trash talk and chuckles. The atmosphere was “totally Langley,” as much as the makeshift derby cars being raced.
The typically wacky 2016 Soup Box Derby returned with a blur on Sunday morning as some of South Whidbey’s more colorful characters showed off their mechanical engineering skills in a fun display of flair. South Whidbey’s alternative version of the Soap Box Derby brought crowds north of 100 people out to watch the ragtag machines whizz down First Street in a race to the finish line. People crowded the sidewalk behind a line of hay bales for protection, although the only crash of the day was when Brad Rice’s kayak plowed through a couple of rows of bales. Bystanders were able to jump out of the way long before the minor crash and nobody was injured.
Regular bystanders would have recognized a few returning cars such as the speedy three-wheeled Whidbey Island Winery “Wine Barrel,” Gary Piper’s “Outhouse” and the clunky-looking but deceptively fast Village Pizzeria kart. First-time racers like “Don Quixote,” a modified skate board with a stuffed Eeyore on the front, the office chair on wheels and “Short Story Smash,” a kart with a plastic pterodactyl hanging off the rear, cracked smiles on the sidelines while also providing some extra competition in the timed speed race. The time trials were a first for the Soup Box Derby.
“We had a more competitive spirit this time around,” said John Lawson, President of the Langley Community Club, the organization that puts on the races. “We’ve never timed races before and declared a clear winner. This year we had that clear winner and it was more competitive, which actually made it more fun for all involved.”
The most aerodynamic kart didn’t take home the first place bragging rights. That title went to the Whidbey Island Winery Wine Barrel, a past winner which barreled down the hill beating out the competition in every race. But the final race won by the winery was like nothing previously seen at past derbies. The grand finale pitted not two, but three karts against each other at once: the barrel, Don Quixote and the Village Pizzeria kart. All three whizzed past the competition in previous rounds, but made for a photo finish when facing each others.
“We’re the dreaded entrant,” Elizabeth Osenbach, co-owner of Whidbey Island Winery said.
When 94-year-old fan favorite Peter Lawlor made his way up the hill to race his kart, “The Whole Enchilada,” murmurs could be heard throughout the crowd as if Sir Jackie Stewart had strutted to the starting line. Lawlor faced off against his old arch nemesis, Gary Piper and his outhouse on wheels. It was a close race with small margins, but Lawlor crossed the finish line before Piper, who was decked out in an outfit covered in flames.
While the rivalry has been a feature of the derby for years, it seemed like they were both delighted to square off against each other once again.
“The derby is typical Langley,” said Cary Peterson, South Whidbey School District Farm and Garden coordinator who raced the “Produce Basket.” “It’s whimsical, it’s fun, it’s tongue-in-cheek, creative and innovative. It’s everything that Langley is all about.”
The Langley Community Club, which organizes the event, will use the funds raised during the derby to promote social activities, Lawson said. He said event sponsors stepped up to raise $4,500, which the club intends to put towards next year’s event and the revitalization of Langley’s Generation Park. He said the club plans to build a jungle gym with the funds, and do what it can to turn the park into a community gathering space.
With the fundraising, creative approach and friendly, small-town atmosphere, the Soup Box Derby is quintessential Langley. While this year’s races had a competitive edge, those partaking in the races and standing on the sidelines were there for the fun times and Langley-centric sense of community. Freeland resident Vonnalee Branson said the coming together of the community was “perfect,” and Peterson said she loved the community focus the event possesses.
“I still think this is probably the big South Whidbey community event where there are weekend people there, but it’s really a gathering of South End people,” Lawson said. “It’s really a community-centered event, and the tourists who are there are just lucky to see what small-town life in Langley is all about.”