AKRON, Ohio — The annual FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the first time since World War II the derby did not run.
Dubbing the 2021 event “Back on Track,” more than 260 drivers showed up to Derby Downs in Akron to chase the championship title in the Super Car, Super Stock and Master's divisions.
“The racing people consider Akron the Mecca of Soap Box Derby racing,” said public relations chairman Bob Troyer. “Everybody who comes here earns the right to come here. It’s the culmination of all of their efforts to come here.”
Drivers from 35 different states were on hand to participate in the competition.
Madden Cleveland, from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was one of those drivers making his first appearance at the derby. He’s spent the last months fine tuning his derby car to prepare for the races.
“I put most of the weight in the front and in the back,” he said. “Because if you put weight in the back and the front, the front will push you forward a little and then in the back also pushes you down the hill.”
New this year are upgrades to sidewalks along the track that span the entire length of the raceway. The Soap Box Derby also repaved the entire track, making for a faster and smoother ride
“It’s a really fun experience. It’s very fast. The second fastest track I’ve ever been on,” Cleveland said.
But the event also draws in hundreds of families and brings a much-needed post-pandemic boost to Summit county.
“It’s an iconic event. So, it represents itself. But it lets other events know that you can host world class events,” said Gregg Mervis, President and CEO of the Akron Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have the volunteer base, the restaurants, hotels, museums, access off the expressway. Everything people want to see; it just showcases that.”
But for the racers and volunteers who help the event run smoothly each year, they’re just happy to be back on track.
“It’s like a big family here. The families who compete know each other because they’ve been doing it for a while,” Troyer said. “Many of them go to the rallies around the country so they see each other several times a year.”
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