Soap box derby goes A-Oh-Tay

POULSBO — It was a scene straight out of “The Little Rascals” this weekend on Dauntless Drive at Olhava.

Colorful coaster cars and helmeted drivers peppered the make-shift track near Poulsbo’s College Marketplace for the Kitsap Soap Box Derby Association’s first Little Norway race.

But there certainly were no He-Man Woman Haters in sight.

Boys and girls alike from the ages of 8-17 put the pedal to the metal — or in this case let gravity do its thing — as their cars sped from 15-20 mph down a curved portion of roadway.

And it was maneuvering between coned lanes along the curve that proved most difficult.

“If you’ve ever had tunnel vision and tried to drive at the same time, that’s what it’s like,” said Ryan Fauser, 16, a driver from Salem, Ore.

He and buddies William Sarchet, 13, and Zaine Stapleton, 15, all took part in the racing, which saw about 40 drivers both Saturday and Sunday.

The three drive masters cars, the heaviest of the autos allowed. Younger drivers start out with stock cars, and the intermediate tool downhill in super stocks.

Sarchet, of Camus, gave mixed reviews of the new track, but said derby racing is an activity he likes because of the friends he encounters.

“It’s fun. You get to meet a lot of people,” he said. And meet people he has, including derby drivers from all over the United States, New Zealand and Japan during the Soap Box Derby World Championships in Akron, Ohio.

Here, the derby is usually held on Ridgetop Boulevard in Silverdale, or in Bremerton, but in an effort to find a new place for their track to call home without disturbing the flow of nearby businesses, the association decided to give Dauntless Drive a try.

Association president Bill Court said they will review the event and determine if they’d like to continue using the location through the season. They have permission from the Poulsbo City Council to use the road for future summertime events, as well as the county’s go-ahead to use Ridgetop if needed. The association is sponsored by the Silverdale Sunrise Rotary Community.

Stapleton, from Hood River, Ore., said on Dauntless the cars’ starting ramps were raised especially high to compensate for the relatively slow grade of the hill. Normally, he said, tracks are straight, speedier shots.

“At first the kids thought the track was a little slow,” said Court. “By the end of the day they enjoyed the track because of the long, sweeping curve.”

He also said the location had one obvious, immediate benefit: “It was nice to know we weren’t going to have cars pulling out in the middle of the track.”

The roughly quarter-mile stretch still proved a challenge, as the pulley-steering systems in soap box cars aren’t as responsive as those of a normal car, said Philippe Grandjean, whose 12-year-old son Jake took part in the contest.

He and Jake took on derby racing as a father-son activity after seeing a race in Bremerton. Not only have they had a good time, but Jake isn’t such a bad driver, either, Grandjean said.

And when it comes to Poulsbo’s track, he said it may be slower, but at least it isn’t slowing down other traffic.

“You really don’t shut down a major thoroughfare. From that standpoint I think it’s better,” he said.

McKenna White, 9, was first across the finish line in her first-ever derby race. Mom Carey White and grandmother Judy Lowe were certainly proud — though chilly — while watching from the sidelines.

“She was just kind of in awe,” Lowe said after McKenna’s downhill debut. “It’s great family entertainment.”

The association’s next Poulsbo race is scheduled for April 26-27.

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Before running off to take his place behind the starting blocks, Sarchet had a single last piece of advice for potential derby runners: “Just one more thing: Don’t crash.”

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