Gravity Racing beyond the Annual Soap Box Derby

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Local and out-of-state STEM students compete at Derby Downs

by Kayla Sturm

Akron is known for being home to the All-American Soap Box Derby World Championship Race. So what’s going on at Derby Downs for the other 51 weeks out of the year? 

On May 18, Derby Downs hosted 180 teams from various schools and multiple states for the first day of the Soap Box Derby’s Gravity Racing Challenge STEM Team Competition, presented by The University of Akron College of Engineering.

This is a fun activity for kids and teachers, but it is also a learning experience. Students compete with soap box cars they’ve built and given names like Santa’s Sleigh, Little Red Wagon and The Delorean.

“I think what’s happening is that educators, they feel that the program is good for their students,” says Bobby Dinkins, Vice President of Derby Downs. “It teaches their kids a lot of STEM confidences. For a lot of kids in the program, this is the first time they are using tools and are taught a lot of things about friction and weight distribution and how to make the car faster.”

Peter Geiss teaches 8th-12th grade Tech Ed at Springfield. He created a club for his students who want to help out with the derby cars as an afterschool activity. Springfield placed second in the High School Super Stock.

“They’re high schoolers so I don’t have to do too much,” says Geiss. “We provide an instruction manual and a rebuild kit.”

As the kids learn how to build the derby cars, they test out the kinks in the hallways of Springfield Junior high after hours.

“They disassemble it and re-assemble, so I help them with that stuff,” says Geiss. “We practice in the hallway after school. They push it down the hall a few times to get a feel of how the car runs.”

Jeff Hoffman is a middle school and high school woodshop teacher at Louisville, who has participated in this event for the past six years.

“I think the most exciting thing to me about this is watching the kids build the cars themselves,” says Hoffman. “8th grade kids can build these cars with no help from me.”

Although Louisville did not place in this challenge, sophomore Karli Redinger raced for the first time at this event in the Santa’s Sleigh car.

“I just showed up on Tuesday, not knowing what I was doing, but I learned really fast. Anyone can do it,” says Redinger.

The 80th FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby World Championship Race is set to take place Sunday, July 16 through Saturday, July 22. Visit soapboxderby.org for more information on that race as well as other Soap Box Derby events.

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