Soup Box Derby keeps motoring on, even in 40th year

Racers hit the finish under the Zippy Raceway banner.

Despite turning 40 this Saturday, Langley’s Soup Box Derby shows no sign of slowing down.

Race conditions were perfect with sunny skies and hundreds of spectators lining First Street in anticipation of the big race.

Organizers renamed the stretch of road Zippy Raceway, honoring 9-year-old Tobiah “Zippy” Leonard, who was a fixture at the Soup Box Derby from the time she was a pre-schooler until she passed away in a tragic accident Christmas Day of last year. Her mother watched as Zippy’s dad Tim, with friends and family as co-pilots, shot down the hill in the family’s signature racer.

Long-time racer Peter Lawlor — now in his 90s — and Gary Piper in his trusted outhouse racer opened the race day. They reached impressive speeds.

Piper said that he remembered the first race 40 years ago.

“We had an entry in the first one,” he recalled. “But I have been a driver only in the more newer races.”

Gear is an important factor in racing, he said. Each year the outhouse — built by Bob Dalton — gets refined a bit.

“The first couple of years were scary,” he said.

The race is about style as much as speed. This year’s biggest splash was made by Kimmer Morris and Carl Magnusson doing their original Gangnam Style dance across the finish line. From heat to heat more spectators joined the dancing. But their racer didn’t lag behind in style either. Flames were shooting from the back of the vehicle as Magnusson and Morris rolled down the hill.

Longtime race announcer Sue Frause got a new sidekick this year. Nymbol of Nymbol’s Secret Garden helped commentate the race and handed out gift certificates to spectators.

A driving force in putting the race on each year is Tucker Stevens.

“My favorite thing was having one more opportunity to race my old friend Peter Lawlor, the ‘Over Ripe’ Banana. He won the race,” Stevens said, referring to Lawlor’s bright yellow racer shooting down the track. Lawlor left several racers behind him.

While Lawlor was the oldest contestant; the race attracted competitors of all ages and kids as young as 2 strapped on helmets and rolled down First Street with parents at the helm.

“The part I enjoy the most is seeing the children and their families taking part in this event. This event will be going on for many years and will make Langley a place to visit and have a wonderful time,” Stevens said.

The first derby was held in 1972. It got its name because the first race was sponsored by the soup co-op that fed people in town back then. The race was held regularly until the 1990s when it became not much more than a memory for most Langleyites.

“When I became the president of the Langley Community Club in 2000, the request was made to bring back the Soup Box Race,” Tucker said. “So in 2002, with a lot of help from many wonderful people, the race returned. Then LCC members said let’s make it a yearly event and — the rest is history.”