Soapbox derby offers a wheel-good time

First-time drivers and veterans join the fun

Hood River earned a place on the Northwest soapbox racing map last weekend when it hosted its first-ever sanctioned All-American Rally Race.

Approximately 40 gravity-propelled cars from as far away as Salem, Bend and Spokane, Wash., invaded Cascade Avenue Saturday and Sunday for the derby, which was sponsored by the Hood River Lions Club, Print It!, and Community Education.

"The support of the town and the amount of people that turned out made our first race a very positive experience for everyone involved," coordinator Jeff McCaw said. "People from other cities even told us they were jealous that we had so many people show up to help out."

Also contributing to the success of the weekend races was the Columbia River Soapbox Derby Association out of Camas, Wash., which provided critical race components such as an electronic timing system, a public address system, and a starting gate.

CRSDA also brought along a few experienced competitors. One, Lauren Menor, piloted her way to a first-place finish Saturday and a second-place finish Sunday in the Super Stock division. Her brother, Chase, won Sunday's Stock competition.

Super Stock cars are more aerodynamic than standard Stock cars and are allowed to carry more weight, which can make it difficult for smaller, less experienced racers to compete.

Because most local competitors are relatively new to the sport, they opted to compete in the Stock division.

But while these kids may be new to the soapbox racing circuit, that didn't stop two Hood River competitors from eyeing the checkered flag.

Nathan McCaw blazed to a second place Saturday, just behind Madison Stapleton of Portland, and finished sixth out of 19 racers on Sunday.

Equaling McCaw's feat on Sunday was Eric VanDyke, who finished second in the Stock competition and beat out Saturday's champ, Stapleton, using one of 10 cars provided by the Lions Club.

"One thing I learned the first day was to stay low on the course," said VanDyke, who could be seen buffing his car's chassis between races. "You want to reduce the wind resistance as much as possible because everything counts in these races."

Joining VanDyke and McCaw among the Northwest's racing elite was Shaun Hillen, who finished eighth in Sunday's Stock competition. Other local speed demons were Jason DeGeus, Jonathan Frost, Chris Murray, Lucy Andresen and Luke Nance.

"I plan to be back next year," Nance said. "I've had a lot of fun learning how the cars work. And going fast is also pretty fun."

So fun that Jeff McCaw and other soapbox supporters are already beginning to think about next year.

"From what we saw over the weekend, this community really gets behind events like this," he said. "It was exciting to see."

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