Family tradition drives the Soap Box Derby

Thursday, June 10, 2010 | 3:16 p.m. CDT; updated 11:29 a.m. CDT, Friday, June 11, 2010
Nick Schneider applies a shark decal to the side of a soapbox derby car. "I used to race. I kept doing it as long as I could, and went to nationals in Akron, Ohio three times. A few years ago I bought a vinyl cutter for an outside business, and got recruited to do decals," he said.

COLUMBIA — Through the 73 years of the Mid-Missouri Soap Box Derby there has been a revolving door of different drivers and cars, but one constant – families happily interacting.

During this week, families will get the chance to bond as they help build their children’s cars at the Optimist Club. There are almost 30 racers scheduled in two different divisions – stock and super stock – who will be racing down the street of 7th and Broadway from 8:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m  Sunday.

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Political Division 11a.m. -- Presiding Comissioner Ken Pearson vs. Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid

Law Enforcement 12:00 p.m. -- Chief Ken Burton, Columbia Police Department vs. Major Tom Reddin Boone County Sheriff Department

Education 1:00 p.m. -- Chancellor Brady Deaton, University of Missouri vs. Superintendant Chris Belcher, Columbia School System

Healthcare 2:00 p.m. -- Dan Rothery, CEO Boone Hospital & Clinics vs. Dr. Tim Fete, Chairman Children's Health, University Hospital

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In the week leading up to the race, the Optimist Club is like any good auto shop; power tools are ripping through any semblance of silence and sparks are flying from screws getting sawed to their necessary size.

In the foreground, a child asks his dad if he can drill the final screw into the car. The father, reluctant at first, responds by taking his son’s hand and places it on the drill. With the aid from his father, the smiling - but determined - boy guides a screw into the wooden body of the car.

This is what Soap Box Derby is all about – grandparents, parents, cousins and friends coming together and working side-by-side.

“Here is the greatest thing,” Rick McKernan, the public relations chair said pointing to the Schneider family.

The Schneider's are a sort of local legends. The parents, Coleen and Greg Schneider, have been active in soap box derby ever since their children -- Nick and Brittney -- started racing over a decade ago.

Nick and Brittney Schneider used to travel around the Midwest winning soap box derby races. Even though they are done racing, they aren’t done with the derby; they've served on the board of directors with their parents ever since they stopped racing.

What keeps them coming back?

“Seeing kids interact with their parents,” Brittney Schneider, now a current MU student, said. “Racing brought me and my family together, and its just great to see kids get closer to their parents.”

Joyce and J’Sheeree Peal couldn’t agree more. This Sunday will be J’Sheeree Peal's third race.

Joyce Peal says her favorite part of the derby is seeing the smile on her daughter’s face.

“It’s great to see her enjoy herself.”

Her daughter loves the derby, especially when she sees her finished car.

The derby is hard work and requires many things to come together, but that doesn’t deter the Peal’s — or the rest of the families — from joking around.

“I’ll get some soda cans, shake them up, and hold them over the back,” J’Sheeree Peal jokingly said in reference to helping her car go faster. “There’s nothing in the rule book about soda!”

The smiles float  from family to family, masking the nerves for the big day.

Beyond the focused face of third-year racer Haley McKernan, granddaughter of Rick McKernan, is an energetic Rock Bridge Elementary student who also enjoys cheerleading.

“I love going downhill,” Haley Mckernan said. She is hoping to build off of last year’s 5th place finish by winning her division this year.

The racers who win their division will get the chance to compete at nationals in Akron, Ohio.

While the competition runs deep, tradition runs deeper at the derby. Haley McKernan has no problem passing down her secret to success to first-year racers like James McClair.

“You have to stay low,” Haley said.

James McClair, 11, is active outside of the Soap Box Derby – playing football, baseball and basketball – but enjoys the speed that comes with racing.

He and his father, Vincent McClair, have been working on their car for several days. Vincent McClair says he’s appreciated the time he’s been able to spend with his son and has been inspired by the way he talks about the derby at home.

Later in the night, while Vincent McClair was screwing a nut into the back of the car, James McClair stood at his side, smiling, and asked his dad, “Can we do this next year? And the year after that?”

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