COLUMBIA — They probably won't be thinking about it, but 43 young racers will be putting their knowledge of physics to the test on Sunday as they compete in the Mid Missouri Soap Box Derby in downtown Columbia.
The competitors and their families have been working on their cars for weeks.
"The kids don't realize how much of a physics lesson they're getting," Rick McKernan, a Mid Missouri Soap Box Derby board member, said. "They learn about angular momentum, moment of inertia, kinetic energy, potential energy, aerodynamics — all factors that go into enhancing your probability of winning. Even the placement of the weight in the car makes a difference."
The free, family-friendly event will begin at 8 a.m. Sunday and conclude after races end at around 4 p.m. The starting line will be at Broadway and Seventh Street.
"We are the only people that get to block off Broadway for a whole day," McKernan said. "Even when they have parades, they let them have it for a few hours, and then they kick them out."
The drivers, who range in age from 7 to 17, hail from Columbia, Ashland, Boonville, Eldon, Harrisburg and Rocheport, according to a news release from the Downtown Optimist Club, which sponsors the event.
The competition is split into three divisions: stock, super stock and masters. The divisions separate racers by age and the combined weight of racer and car. The divisions cap out at 200, 240 and 255 pounds, respectively.
This derby is broken into a double-elimination, bracket-style competition, McKernan said. Racers compete against each other twice, switching lanes and swapping wheels between each of their two turns. The time difference between racers is often within thousandths of a second, McKernan said.
The winner from each division will advance to the All-American Soap Box Derby, a weeklong event in Akron, Ohio, to compete against racers from all across the world in late July.
Titles aside, though, McKernan said the kids show a great deal of sportsmanship.
"Even though they're all competitors, they all help each other," he said. "You'll see two kids, both of whom really want to win and are in the same division, and they're helping each other do things for their cars."
Local celebrity races will be interspersed throughout the day, starting at 10 a.m. They will feature UM System President Tim Wolfe, incoming Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman and Mayor Bob McDavid. These races will continue throughout the afternoon on the hour.
The track, which McKernan said measures about 1,000 feet, runs west on Broadway from Seventh Street to Providence Road.
"A lot of time people don't think of Broadway as being a hill," McKernan said. "But if you're standing there at Providence and look toward downtown, then you realize that Broadway really is a pretty big hill."
Sunday's weather forecast has a 10-percent chance of rain, but rain alone will not impede the race schedule, as long as cars can stop at the bottom of the hill.
"We run in the rain," McKernan said. "We don't run if there's lightning, hail or tornadoes."
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