PDX’s Knights of the Soap Box Cars

Soap Box Derby

Despite the fact that laundry soap doesn’t come in large wooden boxes anymore, the Soap Box Derby (now featuring the words “All American” in its title) rolls on every summer.

Soap Box 2

When the Sunday Oregonian devoted most of its July 24, 1940 front page to the Portland national qualifying race, the Derby was only six-years-old.

The annual event began in Dayton, Ohio in 1934. Organizers moved the race to Akron (also in the Buckeye state) in 1935 because Akron’s terrain was superior (more hills) for young coasting gravateers (we have Lumineers {thelumineers.com}, so why not gravateers?).

All American Soap Box DerbyThis year marks the 78th running of what’s totally officially called (the event is a big deal and attracts worldwide interest, so there’s a big national sponsor now): “The First Energy All-American Soap Box Derby.”

The national festival, which runs July 20-27, will be held at “Derby Downs,” the event’s permanent track in Akron, which opened in 1936.

If for any reason, you’d like to know more about this gripping American tradition, the web is loaded with information. The best place to start is here: All American Soapbox Derby.

Of course, at the FLASHBACK, we’re much more interested in history as well as any and all Portland angles of this compelling story.

Soap Box 3

With that in mind – staff writer Herbert S. Lampman’s lead paragraph in the Oregonian’s 1940 story is, to say the very least, awkward and perplexing. Mr. Lampman wrote: “A slight, blond youngster from Tillamook with the engaging nom de plume of ‘Deacon’ won the sixth annual Soap Box Derby…He is properly known as George Coats, 13.”

We understand that the Deacon’s “slight” build may have been a contributing factor to his “scant hand’s breadth” 1940 victory; but his hair color? Do blond teenagers defy gravity more effectively than their other-haired counterparts? And, beyond that, what in the world is a “scant hand’s breadth?”

Soap Box 1

The 10,000 spectators who “massed along the brushy sidelines of the of the N.E. 82d avenue courts that was marked out between Tillamook and Siskiyou streets” were enthusiastic according to Mr. Lampman. He wrote: “No Indianapolis major racing classic ever has been cheered more loudly than the knights of the soap box cars.”

PDX Soap Box 2
On Saturday, August 16, 2014 – it’s quite possible there may be actual Knights digging gravity at Mount Tabor Park in motorless racecars during the PDX Adult Soap Box Derby.

Shocking isn’t it – that our lovely metropolis has a Soap Box Derby especially for adults?

“Camaraderie, Competition and Community,” says the local group’s website. Worth a drive-by, their site is “dedicated to all those have spilled their blood, or even worse, spilled their BEER.”

Rest assured, PRP will be covering this extraordinary local event.

As far as the 2014 First Energy All-American Soapbox Derby – it appears there is no longer a national qualifying race in Portland. The Oregon qualifier was held last June in Salem.

According to group’s Facebook page, two champions, Daniellle Fuller and Haley Lawhorn emerged from the 2014 competition. Both will be traveling to Akron.

Worth noting, neither of the 2014 Oregon champions have blond hair.

PDX Soap Box 1

Robert Parish

Robert Parish has more than three decades of experience as a writer, producer, director, editor, videographer and voiceover artist. During his career, Parish has won dozens of national awards for his scriptwriting and video production efforts.

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1 reply
  1. Val
    Val says:

    I just came across this when web searching Haley Lawhorn (mentioned as the Salem 2014 Soap Box Derby winner). I would like to send out a new tidbit with regard to this particular champ as she is now champion of a different type of race.
    Haley suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and hemorrhagic stroke while riding her bicycle with a friend on Dec. 8. Within the course of just 3 short weeks, she has recovered her speech and some of the use of her right leg but is still fighting to get back to her life. She has been living at the children’s hospitals in Portland since Dec. 8. This 11 year old champion has become an inspiration through her determination and success. Her friend was with her when she collapsed, and it was because of this friend’s quick thinking that Miss Haley is still with us today. Here is a link that her cousin set up with some information https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/mdw6/haley-noel-s-fight-for-recovery

    Reply

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