Soap Box Derby Days


By Bruce Yarbro

Note from George: For those that don’t know, Bruce Yarbro and I grew up together, were college roommates and still talk weekly, although he lives in Memphis and I live in Nashville. He actually set up this site, and is also one of the main people that encouraged me to start blogging. Bruce followed Indy in the sixties and seventies; but like a lot of people, somewhere along the way he lost interest in the sport. Over the years, I’ve bored him with my passion for the sport and I’m slowly trying to get him back into it. He watched the Milwaukee race and wanted to offer his take. –GP

After literally sleeping through this week’s Milwaukee race, I began to wax nostalgic over when racing was really racing and innovation ruled the day. I really want to get back into watching this sport and enjoy as I did then, but I’m just not seeing it.

In the late sixties we, as a nation, where shooting for the moon. Engineering, innovation, risk-taking and invention just got things done.  Racing was at its apex technologically with turbine cars, sidecars and yes…the All American Soap Box Derby.

My brother competed in 1967 and I in 1968 — in stock cookie cutter canvas-covered stock design cars. Our great-uncle, John, helped us build them and we had a great time and learned — they were stock and boring.

During my time at the race, it was a hot summer and I had high hopes when we pulled into the loading area and pulled the car out of the back of the 1968 Pontiac station wagon. I just knew I was going to win until I saw: The Competition.  A sleek gold, aerodynamic blob of fiberglass was lowered from the truck. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. It was almost unworldly and had a sexy meanness to it that to this day I can’t describe. Any thoughts of winning against that thing were quickly extinguished. My only hope was to qualify in the early rounds against other basic cars and have at least, a decent showing.

Well, I didn’t win the first heat and I was crushed; but I found myself rooting for those spaceships with wheels. Back then, even the Derby wasn’t afraid to innovate and I loved seeing it and cheered it. Man was it cool!

I guess that’s the point of this. I want to root for somebody: Somebody exceptional. Not someone who was packaged and marketed the best, but someone who is great, just because that’s who they are. They are great because they are allowed to be. No homogenizing rules and even playing fields and rules without end. Pushing the limits of technology pushes the limits of motorsports. IndyCar is drifting technologically and this sport needs a Moon Shot and it needs it now. Otherwise we might as well watch NASCAR and continue giving our kids trophies for fourth, fifth and sixth place.


3 Responses to “Soap Box Derby Days”

  1. As much as we would all love to see a return to the open spec innovation of the 60’s, I just don’t see where the $$$ would come from to support it. There are only 2-3 teams that I think could afford to do it. Look around the field. Most teams are struggling to buy the spec Dallara chassis and lease the Honda engine.

    Alas, even the soap box derby is a spec series these days.

  2. António Sousa Says:

    A simple approach would be to somewhat emulate F1 – define a budget cap per team (or per car), but then ad the twist – open spec all the way…

  3. oilpressure Says:

    Innovation doesn’t have to cost mega bucks. Just open it up and see what happens. Small innovations will be introduced (by smaller teams I bet). If you’re worried about Ganassi and Penske having an unfair advantage, I hate to say they already have it.

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