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Soap Box Derby brings out the racers’ edge

Anna Roth, 7, of Kansas City neared the finish line in her hot-rod-style car as she raced against Carlie Kilby of Independence, Iowa, Sunday at the Kansas City Soap Box Derby races at the track near the Truman Sports Complex.
Anna Roth, 7, of Kansas City neared the finish line in her hot-rod-style car as she raced against Carlie Kilby of Independence, Iowa, Sunday at the Kansas City Soap Box Derby races at the track near the Truman Sports Complex. Special to The Star

Hunter Lee Hawkins squeezed his 15-year-old frame into his car and prepared for the race.

In the next lane, 13-year-old Megan Plum also was psyched. The fastest one down the hill to the finish line could earn points that they each hoped would propel them toward the world championship Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio.

Hunter qualified last year by winning the local races in Kansas City.

“We went to Akron last year, and we’re trying to go back this year,” said Hunter’s mom, Laura Hawkins of Harrisonville.

Soap Box Derby racing is a serious — and fun — sport. Twenty-six contestants participated Sunday in the first race of the year at the Kansas City derby track at 4600 Eastern Ave., not far from the Truman Sports Complex. They came from as far away as Kentucky and Nebraska, said Kansas City Soap Box Derby president Sarah Darling.

Boys and girls ages 7 to 21 compete in three classes. Stock is generally for younger racers. Super stock cars are bigger and sleeker. In the master class, the driver gets completely inside the car with just a slit for visibility. Steering is limited for the gravity-powered vehicles. There are weight limits and even rules about where weights can be placed inside the car.

Competitors are matched against each other for two phases. After the first one they swap lanes and even wheels. After the race, the cars are loaded onto a trailer bed and brought back up the hill. It’s a lot of work.

“I do everything,” Hunter said.

Megan’s family, from Basehor in Leavenworth County, discovered the sport last year.

“Her dad was perusing the Internet for fun things for kids to do in Kansas City and we just happened upon Soap Box Derby,” said Stacy Plum, Megan’s mother. “We tried it out last year and the kids got hooked. We bought cars and found sponsors.”

Logan Plum, 10, described what he liked best about it.

“You go fast down the hill,” he said.

Logan has clocked at 30 mph. Last year Megan clocked at 35 mph.

“We’ve traveled to Tennessee, Iowa, Nebraska, seeing the country and doing something they like to do,” Stacy Plum said. “It’s a great family sport.”

After the second matchup between Megan and Hunter on Sunday, the results were announced. She beat him by a combined .032 seconds.

Matt Campbell: 816-234-4902, @MattCampbellKC

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