Soap Box Derby returns to Fayetteville after nearly 50-year hiatus

It has been nearly 50 years since the last official Soapbox Derby was held in Fayetteville. That will change this spring, with a race that organizers hope will be an annual event.

The Cape Fear Soap Box Derby, a motorless car race for children, will take place on April 29 at the Charlie Rose Agri-Expo Center.

Since the creation of the Soap Box Derby in 1933, only boys were allowed to race. In 1971, that changed because of Sandra Sosa from Fayetteville, who was 11 at the time. After a legal battle, she and two of her friends became the first girls to compete in a sanctioned soapbox derby. Sosa won the Fayetteville race and entered the national championship.

“To be honest, I don’t think it ever made much sense, Sosa previously told The Fayetteville Observer. “I mean, times were different and everything, but what was gained by telling the girls they couldn’t compete?”

Sandra Sosa shown here with a small part of her car collection was the first woman to compete in the soapbox derby in 1971. She says cars are her passion.

In 1972 Chevrolet withdrew from sponsorship of Derby’s national program. In subsequent years, Fayetteville saw cheating scandals, Hahn said. These problems, combined with the lack of a permanent racing venue, ended Fayetteville racing in the mid-1970s, he said.

Now, Hahn and his colleagues at the Kiwanis Club of Cape Fear are bringing the Soap Box Derby back to Fayetteville in hopes of providing area children with a positive sports experience.

Billy Spears, who won the Soap Box Derby in Fayetteville in 1947, poses with a derby car.

Billy Spears, who won the Fayetteville race in 1947, will be the grand marshal of the event.

Online registration, which is $45, opens in mid-October. Entrants can compete in two divisions, each of which is limited to 24 competitors: the Stock Division, for ages 7-13, and the Super Stock Division open to ages 9-18.

The winner of each division will receive a trophy and the opportunity to participate in the national race, which will be held in Akron, Ohio, in July. The Kiwanis club will provide a stipend to winners and their families to attend.

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Car kits range from $700 to $800, but the Kiwanis Club Donor Car Program offers Gold Star kids, disabled veterans and low-income families a borrowed racer at no cost.

Although pricey, Hahn said the initial cost of a kit pays off.

Two girls take shelter under an umbrella while watching a soapbox derby on July 15, 1973. [Staff Photo/The Fayetteville Observer]

“The upfront cost is high, but you can ride it year after year,” he said. “It’s a reasonable investment for your child.”

Building the kit takes about eight hours and is a good way to get kids away from their smartphones, Hahn said.

“It gives them something to build on,” he said.

Taylor Shook, food, restaurant and business journalist, can be reached at tshook@gannett.com.

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