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Annual race run for fun, to bring boys to RAscomment (0)

October 27, 2011

By Neisha Fuson

Start your engines!

Or in this case, pull your feet off your brakes.

The 11th Royal Ambassador (RA) Soapbox Derby, sponsored by the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions’ (SBOM) office of global missions and men’s ministries, was held Oct. 15 in front of the Capitol building in Montgomery.

Forty-two cars representing 17 churches raced, two at a time, down the two-block track for the “fastest car” title and a trophy for their church. The “most unique design,” “best of race (sportsmanship)” and “obstacle course” trophies were also up for grabs.

The preliminary races allow every boy with driving experience to race down the track. The final race allows each car to race two times, once on each side of the track. Boys compete in divisions based on age (Lads, grades 1–3; Crusaders, grades 4–6; and youth) and wheel size (small, under 10 inches; medium, 10 inches to 14 inches; and large, over 14 inches).

This year, one car sped down the track at 22 mph and the fastest track completion time was 33.38 seconds. The Montgomery Police Department lent a speed gun to derby officials to clock each car’s speed, and officers attended the event to provide security and set up barricades at the end of the track.

The push car obstacle course allows the boys to team up with one driver and one “pusher” as they weave in and out of cones, trade places at the bottom of the hill and race back to the starting line. They use the small-wheeled cars for this course, Tyler Jacobs, 10, of Eastern Hills Baptist Church, Montgomery, explained. “The small wheels are better for moving around the cones,” he said.

While soapbox cars were first “discovered” by an Ohio journalist in the 1930s, it wasn’t until the 1990s that Alabama RAs started racing them.

Max and Alice Dempsey, members of Coosada Baptist Church, saw a soapbox derby while watching “The Little Rascals” with their grandchildren and thought, “This would be a great idea for our Alabama RAs.” So they organized the first RA soapbox derby with Steve Stephens, RA consultant for the SBOM, in 1999. It was held in Prattville, but for the past 10 years, the derby has been held in Montgomery.

And the RAs return each year because “they really enjoy it,” said Stephens, who serves as derby director.

What they don’t realize is the goal of the event isn’t crowning a champion.

“The point is to bring in the boys to get involved with RAs, not necessarily the big race,” Stephens said.

“We want to encourage the churches to do races in their own neighborhood and outside their church to attract boys in their area (to participate in RAs),” he added.

RA leader Jeremy Birchfield of Cedar Grove Baptist Church, Leeds, continues to return to the derby because his RAs want to and he sees it as a ministry opportunity.

“Some of these boys don’t have a dad at home, so it’s good to be with them and set an example,” he said.
Others view the derby the same way.

This year, a Bikers for Christ chapter and two chapters of Wheels of Faith attended the event to encourage the RAs and allow spectators to enjoy their motorcycles.

“[The boys] come and look at our bikes, and we come to look at their cars,” Tony Newman, vice president of the Montgomery chapter of Wheels of Faith, said with a smile.

At the end of the finals, trophies were handed out to smiling RAs and their leaders.

But that’s not really what it’s all about.

“[The boys] really aren’t interested in the trophies,” Stephens said with a laugh. “They just want to race down the hill.”

To view a video related to this story, visit the video library.

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