2212 Sullivan Trail Forks Township Pa. 18040 610-258-2963
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2212 Sullivan Trail Forks Township Pa. 18040-7901
Phone: 610-258-2963 Fax: 610-258-3973
Gravity Racing or Adult Soapbox Derby
The first Gravity cart race happened shortly after the invention of the wheel. The organized sport of Soapbox Derby is first shown in the Charlie Chaplin movie “Kids Race”. My Father participated in a Soapbox Derby race as a child. The Sport was organized and promoted as a Children's event. In the United States the All American Soapbox Derby Inc. is the national sanctioning body of the children's sport.
The adult version of Gravity racing has been mostly unorganized. Adult Gravity racing has been taking place in cities and regions around the United States for decades. The organizations range from “Outlaw Racing” where a group will secretly meet on a public road, race get loaded up and out of the area before the Police arrive, to a series where companies like Bentley and Lotus put their best design engineers to build cars to compete with other car companies. Portland Oregon has one of the oldest Gravity racing events in the country. Red Bull would promote Gravity racing in different cities around the country a few years back. From these events local races would pop-up. The first local event would be held in Nazareth in 2008
The design of an Adult gravity car is lightly regulated to allow for innovation and creativity. Most of the rules govern length, width with some simple weight restrictions. Cars need to pass a simple safety inspection to race. The cost of building a car is fairly inexpensive. My first Car cost me about $75.00 for steel plywood and old wheelchair wheels.
Nazareth Adult Soapbox Derby
In 2008 we got involved with a group in Nazareth running an adult Soapbox Derby. 15 cars were entered into the first race. Google Nazareth Adult Soapbox Derby. Cars can be built very inexpensively. we sailed through the brackets undefeated The U17’s only loss of the day was in the finals.
For 2009 we added 2 new cars to our team. The 2.0 was built on the same frame as the 2008 car. Considerable time was fabricating a fiberglass body that resembled Mario Andretti’s 1969 Indy winner. My research into Mario Andretti’s Indy car took me to the Indianapolis Speedway Museum where there is a copy of Mario’s 1969 winning car is on display.
The 2009 on race day we were told Mario Andretti would be attending the event. When Mario arrived he visited our tent. I can describe it as a thrill but to have him looking over my hand built model of his orange number 2 was very cool. He signed the hood of the car he answered a few questions about his 1969 car. Mario’s last words when he left our tent were “if it runs hot stay on it” as a description to his badly overheating DOHC Ford V8 in May of 1969.
Car number 3 the X-15 was built out of a old pedal car to get a 60 year old women down the hill without killing her. The X-15 was not built for speed and unfortunately never made it out of the second round. The 2008 U-17 would by piloted by a friend. A lucky draw for a start list would seed the U-17 and the Andretti Car in separate brackets. Both Cars would win every heat until they both met in the finals, The aerodynamic Andretti car beat the U-17 our team Sawfish Racing took first and second place.
2010 Peggy wanted to go faster so the X-15 was updated with wheelchair wheels and a new car the 4.0 was added to the Team. All 4 cars advanced throughout the day with most losses and eliminations in heats against each other. In a very close race the Andretti car won the 2010 race.
2011 a 5th car would be added to the team. Car 5 was a fiberglass Monocoque design with the fiberglass body acting as a frame. 2011 would come down to the draw for starting position and another year where we had our own cars eliminated each other. The Andretti Car would be eliminated in the semi finals and this would end our day.
2012 or as one blogger would title it “The Day Gravity Died”. We would build a 6th car for 2012. The new number 66 would be built around larger wheels that would allow us to inflate the tires past 150 psi. We would retire the X-15. Entered would be the U-17, the Andretti Car, number 4, 5 and the new number 66. Late in the race we had 3 cars heading for the Trophy Round. The first of our fast 3 was eliminated when we were forced to race it on a flat tire because organizers wouldn’t give us time to repair it. In the next heat the Home Team was given unlimited time to repair a car the driver wrecked. Our Second fastest Car was eliminated when the Home Team tried to push it into the curb. In a protest of the action of the home team track officials would declare intentional crashing a legal tactic.
After more then a hundred heats over 5 years officials would take the race in a very dangerous direction by allowing intentional contact. These hand built cars are not designed for contact and do not have seat belts, roll bars, or bumpers. Even more dangerous then intentional contact between cars were spectators who are sitting on the curb. Spectators would have no escape from a 300 pound car traveling at 30 mph.
The Andretti car would make the trophy round however the Race Staff would set it up to be taken out by the Home Team. the Green Light to “take us out”. Only I know how close the Home Team came to pushing us into the crowd gathered near the finish line
The Race Director in a statement on the web site said The race was not fun for him anymore.
I guess his idea was to injure some spectators and call it a day.
Mario Andretti’s response “That’s not Racing”.
Some of the responses that showed up on Bog’s after the race felt we were too successful and it was about time we were taken down. Some responses paralleled the “if it isn’t Rubbing it isn’t Racing” comment. One comment stated that we shouldn’t have been allowed to bring 5 cars. The event was a pure charitable event. In 5 years my cars entry fees had contributed hundreds of dollars to the charities this event supported.
What about 2013 Nazareth and beyond?
By 2012 Gravity Racing had spread from Nazareth. Racing with Nazareth style cars had spread into Reading Pa., New Jersey Connecticut and Massachusetts. This was the highpoint of the sport. Slowly races started to disappear. Lack of participation was the major cause. There has been some interest in starting new races and one new race for 2016 will take place this summer in Wilmington Delaware.
I sold the number 66 to a buyer who was looking for a car for the Delaware Race. The buyer did sand off our logo to disguise its lineage. Disguised or not the number 66 won the race.
First car first trophy Best dressed team Photo Finish
Number 5 leaves the start Nazareth year 1 The competition gets better
4.0’s Luan body 4.0 ready to race The number 5 ready for fiberglass
5 leaves the paint booth 66 the early days 66 ready to race
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