COLUMBIA — Hunched over their steering wheels, shoulders and heads poking over the top of their cars like gophers, participants in the 2009 Mid-Missouri Soap Box Derby Sunday hoped for fast times and a shot at the world championships in Akron, Ohio.
At the intersection of Seventh Street and Broadway, pickup trucks towing trailers full of Akron hopefuls waited patiently in line for the weigh-in. Parents milled about anxiously, offering last-minute alterations to the cars. Crew chiefs moved at a frenetic pace, wiping wheels, checking weights and reporting times.
Excitement was in the air as children waited for their numbers to be called to race. Screams of "Stay left," "Head down" and "Hug that line" could be heard from the sidelines.
As supporters crowded the starting line, taking pictures and shouting encouragement, racers waited anxiously for their shot at soap box glory. The intersection of Broadway and Providence, barricaded with hay bales and parking cones, looked more like a flood wall than a finish line.
Miss Columbia, Paige Sommerer, kicked off the event with the singing of the national anthem.
Thirty children raced in the event, with 12 racing in the Stock division, 12 in the Super Stock division and six in the Masters division. For many, it was their first time racing in the derby.
Jackson Griebel, 11, and his brother Jacob, 9, were among the newcomers. Jacob's favorite part of the race was the end. Jackson said it was fun because “when you get to the drop, you go really fast. The scariest part is the first time you get off the ramp.” Jackson raced in the Masters division while Jacob raced in the Stock division.
Another racer, Thomas Ferguson, 9, said, “I’m pretty much a racing kid.” While it was his first time racing in a soap box derby, he said he enjoys all kinds of racing. Thomas entered the race with his friend Carson, whom he cheered on anytime he wasn’t racing. The two were in the same third-grade class last year at Mill Creek Elementary School.
"The most important thing about winning is aerodynamics,” Thomas explained.
There was some disappointment among the crowds, however, when it was time for the first celebrity race. Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Jim Ritter was ready to race, but his opponent, MU Chancellor Brady Deaton, failed to show.
For the next celebrity race, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser raced Boone County Presiding Commissioner Ken Pearson, who lost to Mayor Darwin Hindman last year. Pearson won with a time of 1.052 minutes. Although Nauser lost, she remained in good spirits. “It was fun, exciting. I got to do something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” Nauser said.
New Police Chief Ken Burton also got in on the action, speeding through two red lights on his way to victory over Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey.
Another set of brothers, Nathaniel and Steven Adams, has been involved in the races for several years. In 2007, Steven, 14, won in his division and advanced to race in Akron, where he got to stay in a hotel and go to Geauga Lake and Wildwater Kingdom.
At the end of the day, both Adams brothers were celebrating. Steven won the Masters division, and his younger brother, Nataniel, took home the Stock division title. Thomas Waggoner, 14, of Fayette, will represent the Super Stock division at the world championships.
"I feel pretty good, real excited to go to Akron," Steven said.