COVE — Soap box derbies might be a relic of a different era, but don’t tell anyone in Cove.
The small Union County community hosted Oregon Soap Box Derby’s 25th annual Best in the West competition on Saturday, May 29, with participants from across Oregon and out of state taking part.
“(Soap box derby) really teaches the kids sportsmanship, being a gracious loser as well as a good winner and cheering on your fellow drivers,” said race director Jim Youngers.
Oregon Soap Box Derby is based out of Salem and this is the third year the Best of the West event has been held in Cove. The event was held right outside of downtown Cove, on Haefer Lane between Conklin Lane and Jasper Street.
Races started midday and went through the afternoon as the tournament commenced. Families and local fans lined up along Haefer Lane in lawn chairs and tents. With the Cove High School graduation taking place down the street at the same time, some locals meandered over to check out the races.
Nearly 20 racers took part in the event, split into two divisions. The stock division included competitors between the ages of 7 and 13 and less than 125 pounds, while the super stock division was made up of kids 9 to 18 and less than 150 pounds.
“I was really excited to see the number of kids and see the number of people in the community that came to watch,” said Oregon Soap Box event coordinator Sam Delaney.
The contestants competed in a double-elimination tournament consisting of two races per matchup. After the first race, drivers switched lanes and wheels. The participant with the best combined time from both races advanced to the next round with the runner-up relegated to the consolation bracket.
Before the racing started, all contestants checked in and weighed their cars. The overall weight of the driver combined with the car had to be exactly the same for every driver to ensure fair racing conditions. To secure an even measurement, weights were added to the cars of the smaller drivers.
As part of the Super Kids program, local racer Sean Kuga teamed up with Mikayla Saddler in a two-person soap box car. Super Kids allows physically and mentally disabled kids to compete in soap box derby races. Sean’s dad, Mark Kuga, remarked on the impact that soap box derby racing has had on Sean.
“He was afraid of a ball, just afraid to do stuff, and this totally took him out of his shell,” Mark Kuga said.
Sean has competed in basketball, soccer and other sports through Special Olympics and integrated sports programs in Cove. Although he is too old to compete in the soap box derby now, Sean drove down the track a few times to raise interest in the Super Kids program and encourage other kids with special needs to get involved.
“The community is very supportive,” Mark Kuga said.
The rest of the field consisted of a mostly even split between experienced drivers and first-time racers. The seeding for the tournament bracket was drawn randomly, but all the competitors took part in multiple races in the double-elimination format.
“Just to see all these local kids try it out is great,” Youngers said. “It’s a fun sport.”