Small Cars With Small Drivers Race Toward a World Championship

Valentina Ross arrived at the parking lot of Public School 111 in the Baychester neighborhood of the Bronx last Saturday seeking redemption. Spread all over the pavement were her opponents: 30 other soapbox derby teams, competitive elementary and middle schoolers and their teachers wearing matching shirts and attending to their gravity-powered vehicles. In last year’s race, she lost in the final heat, missing out on a chance to represent P.S. 83 at the Soap Box Derby World Championship in Akron, Ohio. She was determined not to let that happen again.

“You have this guilt built inside of you,” said Valentina, a 13-year-old from the Morris Park neighborhood. But she had prepared herself, doing yoga that morning and running hill sprints until she gathered with her team.

The race last Saturday was the culmination of months of effort from schools in the northeast Bronx, where students designed and assembled soapbox cars to compete for a place in the international championship this summer.

The derby racing was also a manifestation of the science curriculum in District 11 — one of a handful of New York City districts that have turned to soapbox to engage pupils and ultimately get them excited about going to, and being in, school.

Soapbox derby champions have come from all over the country, but no New York City student has ever won in Akron.

Constructing the cars allowed students and their teachers to take a break from books, applying the concepts of physics and aerodynamics to test runs in the hallways and cafeteria.

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