COLUMBIA — If you head to the intersection of Seventh Street and Broadway this weekend, you might see Mayor Darwin Hindman and Boone County Presiding Commissioner Ken Pearson racing cars. Soapbox cars, that is.
From 8 a.m. until about 3 p.m. Sunday, the Downtown Optimist Club will play co-host to the 71st annual Mid-Missouri Soap Box Derby.
About 35 kids are expected to race in self-built soapbox cars made from kits, although parents are allowed to offer a little help. Soapbox cars are gravity-powered vehicles used in downhill races.
The Downtown Optimist Club has co-sponsored the event since 1938, and many of its members have been involved with the derby throughout the years.
“I’ve been involved in this since the early ‘90s, since ‘92,” Optimist Club member Greg Schneider said. He, his wife and his children have been involved since his kids started racing. The children are too old to race anymore, but the family has stayed involved with the derby.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Schneider said. “We enjoy doing it each year. We wish more kids would get involved.”
The derby is divided into three divisions with three types of cars: stock, superstock, and masters.
Though the Downtown Optimist Club is the main sponsor, several Columbia businesses sponsor cars.
“A lot of the kids, they take the initiative to get in contact with sponsors,” Schneider said.
One of those sponsors is NASCAR driver Carl Edwards, a Columbia native. The Optimist Club’s derby was one of Edwards’ first racing victories.
“Carl Edwards is sponsoring four kids: two for the stock and two for the masters divisions,” said Rick Willard, president of the Downtown Optimist Club’s committee for the Soap Box Derby.
The Downtown Optimist Club seems to be a close-knit group. Schneider, a former president of the Soap Box Derby committee, has encouraged some club members to get involved with the derby.
“This’ll be my fifth year,” Optimist Club member Chuck Boots said. He said Schneider originally got him involved.
One of Boots’ derby jobs is getting cars ready to drive, but last year, Boots himself got to race.
It was the first year adults were allowed to participate. The club crew built adult cars because they wanted to draw “bigger kids,” Schneider said. Boots and Danny Lindsay, vice president of the Soap Box Derby committee, built the adult cars last year, and Schneider painted them.
Among the “bigger kids” participating in the race Sunday are Pearson and Hindman, who will race each other Sunday, Boots said.
Even though adults can now participate in the races, it’s still all about the kids.
This year marks the fifth year Willard and his family are participating in the derby. He, his wife and his son worked on his son’s car Tuesday evening at the Downtown Optimist Clubhouse. He offered a simple explanation for what keeps him coming back each year.
“That,” he said, pointing to his son. “It’s for the kids. It’s fun.”