On Saturday, June 2, the city of Lynchburg, Va. held its first soapbox car derby since the mid-1990’s. The Hill City Classic which was held at Falwell Airport, had 22 participants entered in two divisions (stock and superstock) who raced 60-pound hard plastic kit cars which replaced the soapbox cars used in the 1960’s. Since there are no engines in soapbox derby cars, the only difference between stock and superstock is the size of the driver. In superstock, the cockpit is larger to accommodate pilots ages 13 to 17, as opposed to the 10 to 13 range for stock.
The event was organized mainly by a group from the Greater Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce and was supported by donations from local businesses including Central Virginia Community College (CVCC) and Babcock & Wilcox (B&W). CVCC provided a number of scholarships that ensured an economic cross-section of competitors, a team of engineers from B&W helped develop some of the entries from the Jubilee Family Development Center and a lot of fathers, mothers, uncles and neighbors helping assemble the cars.
Barbara Bragg, Ranken’s STEM Pathway Development Coordinator, who is originally from Virginia, heard of the revitalization of the derby and wanted to participate. She learned that 13 year old Nathan Hansen, who is the son of Kim Hansen, an adjunct faculty member at CVCC and strong STEM enthusiast, was entering the competition in the super stock division so she decided to sponsor him in Ranken’s name.
"Not only have I known Nathan’s family for years, but I also saw it as a great opportunity to make Ranken’s presence more dominant in that area," said Bragg.
The 22 cars were raced down a 550-foot-plus hill which coaxed gravity-fed speeds of around 30 miles an hour and the difference in the finish was around two seconds. At the end of the double-elimination competition, Hansen, who was a winner at a competition held in Wanesboro, Va. and a national derby participant last summer, defeated the only female in the field to win the super stock division. Hansen, along with the winner of the stock division, will move onto the National event held in Akron, Ohio on July 21.
When asked how he continues to have success in derby competitions, Hansen laughed and said: "Put flames on your car."