For decades, the Jamestown Area Soap Box Derby has been a way to bring families together.
“I’ve been involved with the Soap Box Derby for about 31 years. I started off with my own kids in the derby and now I have grandkids involved with the derby,” said John Williams, Jamestown Area Soap Box Derby director.
While the families spend time before the race building the cars, John says it’s the day of the race where you really see how this event brings a community together.
“(We) become a big family,” John said. “We’ve had cars that have had accidents during the race and everybody will jump in and help them fix their car so they can get right back on the track.”
It’s the relationships, John says, that make the derby such a special, and unique, event for the community.
“I have seen so much come out of the derby (over the years) with parents working along with their kids and developing closer relationships,” John said. “It’s been great watching the kids grow up and go through the ranks.”
One of the “kids” who went through the ranks and is now actively involved in supporting the derby is Brian Hasson. At the top of the hill at John S. Sinatra Memorial Track, Brian reflected on his experience as a former derby racer.
“When I was 9, I wanted to be in the Soap Box Derby but my parents didn’t have the extra money to purchase a car. The Jamestown YMCA and Bill Thomas had a team car program, where if you couldn’t afford one, or didn’t have the ability to build your own, they would help provide one to you. That was how I got my first car for the Derby,” Brian said.
For the next six years, Brian was one of hundreds of kids racing down Baker Street.
“The last year we ran on Baker Street, I won and was able to go to the World Championships and it was just a really cool experience. (The derby) is such an awesome thing for the kids and my dad and I have tried to help out and be a part of the Soap Box Derby ever since,” he said.
Three years ago, Brian, who is also the owner of Rapid Moving and Storage, learned that the team car program had ceased to exist. Without the team car program, it didn’t leave many options available for kids and families to participate in the derby.
In 2014, Rapid Moving and Storage sponsored a team car program and was able to help six kids put cars together and enter them into the race. Brian, and his wife Ganna, also created The Rapid Youth Fund at the Community Foundation to support other youth programs in the area.
“I had it on my heart to start a fund to make sure that we could help those programs in the area if a need comes around,” Brian said. “As a little kid I wrestled, was in Cub Scouts, got to be in the Soap Box Derby, and played summer soccer. All those sports and activities were really influential in my life and I don’t know if I would have been able to stay out of trouble if (the community) didn’t have some of those sports and activities to keep me focused.”
Recently, The Rapid Youth Fund awarded $2,500 to the Jamestown Area Soap Box Derby to purchase 15-20 derby cars that will be loaned to kids who cannot afford to buy their own.
“This is a project we’re really excited about,” Brian said.
The 2015 Soap Box Derby will take place on Saturday, June 13. For more information on the derby, or to register, visit jamestownareasoapboxderby.com or contact John Williams at 664-2508.
To learn more about the team car program, contact Rapid Moving and Storage at 665-4832.
The Rapid Youth Fund is administered by the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, to learn more, or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit crcfonline.org or call 661-3390.