Without question, I thought the sentimental favorite was Lucy Newcombe, a little girl no more than 9 years old. I watched her hands as she clutched her helmet. Her grip was not excessively tight and seemed to mesh with gentle eyes that showed more determination than fright. With a concerted effort, she wiggled into a defined and narrow cockpit; then, with two eyes barely peering over a plastic frame, she took one deep breath, steadied her gaze, and tightened her grip around a feeble steering wheel. "Go Lucy Girl," I shouted, hoping that it would make a difference.
The starter released the lever and sent Lucy and her opponent barreling down Michigan Hill at 30 miles per hour in their soap box racing car contraptions at the 8th Annual Soap Box Derby Races in La Cañada. I am told that the drivers' ability to keep their cars running on a perfectly straight tangent is the secret to success and that concentration is the key.
As Lucy sped down the hill, I sensed her exhilaration and realized that, regardless of how she placed, she had already won. I hoped that Lucy Girl realized that going for it was more important than winning. The spirit of a competitor is not solely geared to indulging in winning or losing. Instead, is it the race, it is the struggle that drives the doer of deeds. It is the process and what we learn by racing down its path. That's what learning is: not whether we lose the race, but how we lose,how we've changed because of it and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other races. Losing, in a curious way, is winning … the taste of defeat has a richness of experience all of its own.
As I saw Lucy race by, I couldn't help but hum "Go Speed Racer … Go Speed Racer … Go!" No one has ever bet enough on a winning racer and I was betting the bank on Lucy Girl.
Every year, kids throughout the United States and several foreign countries race their Soap Box Derby cars at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio, to vie for the title of champion
The Soap Box Derby began in Dayton, Ohio in 1934. Cars competing in this race are un-powered and rely solely upon gravity. There are three divisions of racing in the Soap Derby. The first, Stock, is designed to give the first-time builder a learning experience. Boys and girls ages 9 through 16 compete in simplified cars built from purchased kits. The Super Stock Car division gives the competitor an opportunity to expand their knowledge and build a more advanced model. The Masters division offers boys and girls, 11-16, an advanced class of racer to try their creativity and design skills in.
The La Cañada Soap Box Derby Races is sponsored by the noon Kiwanis Club. The Soap Box Derby is one of the many Kiwanis community events and encourages youth-adult cooperation in building and racing soap box derby cars. As I quietly observed the myriad of activities associated with the race, I thought that this event has a lot to do with bringing families together.
Joel Smith, the Derby director, orchestrated a memorable race. Clyde Hemphill, the deputy director, credited the many volunteers who provided the muscle to make the event possible. Boy Scout troop 502, the Key Clubs of La Cañada High School and Flintridge Prep, and the Saint Francis football team worked hard at making the race a first class event.
Let me take you back to the race. Where was I? Oh! So Lucy and her opponent dart from the starting line neck and neck. Both racers grabbed as much gravity as they could and dashed by at warp speed; faster than speeding bullets. Here they came and there they went. It was that fast. "Go Lucy Girl … Go" replaced the adulation of Speed Racer.
The racers increased their speed exponentially as they vaulted down Michigan Hill and from my vantage point I could not tell who was in the lead. It happened quicker than the blink of an eye; the outcome of a race is often determined by much less. Lucy's formidable opponent suddenly jerked his steering to the right sending his car careening off course. With the dexterity of Mario Andretti, he quickly corrected, righting his car straight to the finish line. The checkered flag loomed and oh, Jubilee! Lucy Girl had won the race.
Lucy's nonchalant persona quickly broke into a smile and instead of receiving the laurels due her she presented me with a red Soap Box Derby T-shirt. "Thanks for coming to see me, Dr. Joe."
Lucy Girl's success was defined in her character and ran much deeper than winning this race.
Dr. Joe is a practicing counselor specializing in helping middle and high school students transition to college. He is a professor of education at Glendale College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at email@example.com or write him in care of the Valley Sun, P.O. Box 38, La Cañada, CA 91012.