COLUMBIA — Racers at the Mid Missouri Soap Box Derby battled the heat, then storms on Sunday.
Just before 4 p.m., with only two championship races left, heavy rains began to drench the raceway on Broadway between Seventh and Providence. With lightning and thunder approaching in the distance, it was unclear if the champions would be crowned.
After 30 minutes of storms, a moisture-free 30-minute window prevailed and racers and organizers scrambled to complete the final races. Luckily for Thomas Ferguson and Jordan Weltha, the weather cooperated just long enough to secure their first-place titles.
Ferguson won the stock division (ages 8 to 14), while Weltha won the super stock division (ages 10 to 17).
Weltha, a second year competitor, spoke about what it was like to win.
"I was really excited about it, I was just so happy," he said. "I've worked on my car since last July."
Weltha and Ferguson will get the chance compete in the national soap box derby in Akron, Ohio. Weltha remains optimistic about his chances at the bigger stage.
"I think I have a good chance to do really well."
Other top finishers in the stock division included second-place finisher Haley McKernan and third-place finisher Sam Williams. In the super stock division, Nathaniel Adams took second and Sam Duncan took third.
Before the rain came, Sunday’s soap box derby was all about the families and the heat.
As temperatures rose close to 90 degrees, people sought relief from the sun under the awnings of surrounding buildings.
Dylan Soper, one of the racers, had a large supporting cast of family and friends cheering him on – mostly from the shade.
Soper, a first time racer, has seven sisters. According to his Aunt Candace Howard, days like this are special to the only boy in the house.
“We understand what that can be like,” Howard said. “We like to show him a little bit more.”
Jacque Soper, Dylan Soper’s grandmother, was one of his supporters at the race. She talked about his excitement for the race, something that was written all over Dylan Soper’s face as he spoke about going down the hill.
“You go really fast,” Dylan Soper said. “I was kind of scared at first.”
By his third race, Soper said he was no longer nervous. His favorite part was in the waning moments of races.
“At the bottom, you don’t know who’s going to win. So it’s exciting.”
Dylan Soper’s father, Matt Soper, helped build the car and enjoyed the experience, saying that they’d be back next year.
Howard attested to this, “They had a blast building the car together.”
The event, which started at 8:30 a.m., also featured some celebrity races including MU Chancellor Brady Deaton who took a break from conference realignment talks to beat Superintendent of the Columbia School System Chris Belcher by .064 seconds.
Rick McKernan, the public relations chairman for the soap box derby, spoke about this experience for the racers.
“You have an eight-year-old, six inches off the ground going 25 mph,” McKernan said. “It’s a thriller.”
Dr. Timothy Fete, Chairman of Children’s Health at the University Hospital, was another of the celebrities that raced Sunday.
Fete talked about his nerves before the race.
“Oh you bet I’m nervous,” he said. “I have the first time jitters.”