Families work together at Mid-Missouri All-American Soap Box Derby

Sunday, June 9, 2013 | 8:16 p.m. CDT; updated 8:21 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 10, 2013
Children, ages 7 to 17, race homemade cars down East Broadway on Sunday in the 2013 Mid-Missouri All-American Soap Box Derby. Races took place in the Stock, Super Stock and Masters divisions, Each division required a specific age range and weight of the participant and their car. To ensure the times are based solely on the skill of the driver, each race takes place twice, with the racers getting a chance to drive on both sides of the street once, and they switch two of their wheels with their opponent before each run.

COLUMBIA — For the past eight years, siblings Kaylee Baker, Laythan Slate and Levi Slate have competed in the annual Mid-Missouri All-American Soap Box Derby. At 6-feet tall, Levi, 16, is too tall to race, but he showed up Sunday morning to help his 10-year-old sister as part of her pit crew and support his brother.

For many families, the race serves as a yearly tradition that allows them to come together and try to create a prize-winning car. Levi's and Kaylee's brother, Laythan, 12, also competed, with their mom, Renee Slate, as his pit crew.

Soap Box Derby 1st-place winners

Stock Division

1st place: Blake Holmes, sponsored by Volt Riders

Super Stock Division

1st place: Dylan Soper, sponsored by Dylan's Doors

Masters Division

1st place: Jordan Weltha, parent sponsored

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"It's fun, and it helps you learn how to do stuff," Kaylee said, searching for the best words to describe the event. "You win trophies."

The Soap Box Derby was held on Seventh Street and Broadway and welcomed participants ages 7 to 17 to make a car and race. The race was split into three categories: the Stock, Super Stock and Masters divisions. Winners in each category were determined by the average time it took them to complete the quarter-mile stretch.

Kaylee has competed in the Soap Box Derby for three years. Her car was sponsored by D&D Pub and Grub. She placed fourth last year and had high hopes for the day's race. Having three children competing at once can be a handful, but Renee Slate said her oldest son, Levi, took charge of helping his siblings this year and in past years. He was even asked by organizers to help run the event in the future, Renee Slate said.

Despite worries that the rain would hinder the racing, Levi, who competed for seven years, said the rain could actually help.

"I like the rain because then you can see the grooves in the road," Levi said. "That's where experience comes in. Today the left lane seems to be running fast."

Curtis Russell's son, Michael Russell, has competed in the race for four years. He started when Curtis Russell's father was playing bingo and a friend, Mike Hatchett, asked if Michael would consider racing in the derby for the friend's employer, Shelter Insurance. The family has been competing ever since.

Michael, 12, said his favorite part about the derby is racing down the hill. Michael's car is sponsored by Shelter Insurance and Perry/Legend Collision Repair Center.

For several weeks, families work on the cars, which are then kept by the Downtown Optimist Club until the day of the race so racers can't practice beforehand. In the Stock, Super Stock and Masters divisions, the combined weight of the car, wheels and racer must be exactly 200, 240 and 255 pounds, respectively.

For James McClair, 14, this will be his fourth year competing in the Soap Box Derby. He and his father, Vincent McClair, worked on his car together. Vincent McClair said making the car only takes a couple days, but it takes more time to make adjustments and evenly distribute the weight of the car depending on the height and weight of the racer in question.

Each competitor is allowed to have a pit crew, which consists of one or two people who help take care of the car. Vincent McClair said he single-handedly helped James, much to the chagrin of James' mother, Lorna.

"(Vincent) would look at the car and say, 'You didn't do this, and you didn't do that," Lorna joked. "Don't I get an 'E' for effort?"

Vincent McClair conceded Lorna might have helped out, too, if only by letting him sleep in so he could continue working with James. As his pit crew, Vincent McClair was responsible for transporting the car and giving James tips for the race. 

"I remind him to stay low, or just give pointers for the track," Vincent McClair said. "I don't think the rain will matter much to the kids today. It's all about the kids anyways. To them, it's more about working hard, building the car and just racing."

After a long day of racing, results were announced at Billiards on Broadway. Kaylee Baker won fifth place, Laythan Slate was recognized with a participation trophy, Michael Russell won seventh place and James McClair also received a participation trophy.

Supervising editor is Shaina Cavazos.

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