Lifetime memories were made Saturday, May 16th at the running of the 9th Annual Kenai Soapbox Derby sponsored by the Kenai Rotary Club and this year held at the Challenger Learning Center. Soapbox Derby traces its heritage in this country back to 1934 and the long-standing tradition is still alive and growing in Kenai with 16 entries in this year’s race. Though the new venue for this year’s derby posed some gravitational challenges, overall the new location provided a safer environment for a very successful competition.
Scott Hamann, president of the Kenai Rotary Club, primary facilitators of the event, explained that the lack of gravity was compensated for in the form of two 5 foot tall platforms and two 20 foot long metal ramps from which the racers could take off. While this change in venue resulted in a slightly slower race, the results were still exciting. “It went off flawlessly” Hamann said. “Like I was kind of expecting, it was more technically challenging for the drivers because they really had to focus on their steering and couldn’t make any deviations without losing. Also, being able to see the race from start to finish really made it a good venue for spectators” he said.
With all kinds of community involvement from various sponsors, participants had a multitude of choices in their approach to competing in this year’s race. For the first time ever, the option of a previously used car was made available if participants did not want to make their own vehicle. This year 1st place Wyatt Walaszek, 2nd place Grant Glidden and 3rd place Alston Thomas all drove cars built by Hamann’s welding and fabrication shop, Metal Magic. Rooky driver, 9-year-old Wyatt Walaszek will now head to the National All-American Soapbox Derby in Akron, Ohio to compete for the National title. Asked the secret to his success Walaszek told the Dispatch, “This was my very first time doing this I had never driven a racer before so I just stuck down every time and made myself only as small as I could see,” he said. Walaszek’s car, after competing in Ohio will be retired, never to race again. At the Alaska State Championship Soapbox Derby there were trophies for other categories that included best pit crew which went to the Kane Kruse’s, best sportsmanship went to Grant Glidden who also took 2nd Place finish in the races and the best craftsmanship for a car went to the Peak Oilfield Services car. “We pay attention during the race to see how the kids respond to victory and defeat and look for that spirit of sportsmanship and we tech inspect the cars and can see the cars that display a lot of finish and detail work and we feel they are winners too. The best pit crew is special because there is always a group or family that shows up and pitches in to help with the cars and races and we like to recognize those folks for their pit crew efforts,” explained Hamann. “I hope I can bring back a national trophy to Alaska, I’ll try and do my best,” added Wyatt Walaszek, 2015 Alaska State Soapbox Derby Champion.