"SCRAPBOOK MEMORIES OF PAST YOUNGSTOWN RACES"
1934 - The year it all began. Nobody had much money, but thanks to Myron Scott the All-American Soap Box Derby was off and rolling. Youngstown's first Soap Box Derby was held on north side's Gypsy Lane from Elm Street to Logan Avenue. The 1934 Derby rulebook left no holds barred for racing and most racers could be described as "anything on four wheels" costing less than $10. John A. Fazier, (read a letter from John here) topped the competition of 100 contestants to win the first prize of $50 offered by the Youngstown Telegram. History was also made that day with Youngstown being one of the original 34 cities to send a Champion to the first All-American Soap Box Derby in Dayton.
1935 - With more than double the number of contestants from its previous year, the 1935 Youngstown Soap Box Derby was definitely gaining popularity. With the All-American race moving from Dayton to Akron's East Tallmadge hill, the Derby's future was beginning to take shape. The Chevrolet Division of General Motors stepped in to sponsor the event nationally. Racing again on the Gypsy Lane track, eleven year old Bobby Harris beat last years champion John A. Frazier in the final heat to represent the city of Youngstown in the 2nd All-American Soap Box Derby.
1936 - Akron was now the "Home of Derby Downs" a 1,175-foot rack built especially for Soap Box Derby racing. Thanks to Chevrolet's sponsorship "Derby Fever" was spreading around the country, 115 cities were sending their local champions to Akron's premier racing facility. Back in Youngstown, local racing was all making history. Bobby Harris, trying for his second consecutive victory, crossed the finish line in the final heat in a dead heat with none other than his 15-year old brother, Harry Harris! Demanding another race, 12-year old Bobby then nosed out his older brother in a neck and neck runoff. Bobby made history that day becoming one of the few boys in the nation ever to win two local Soap Box Derby's back to back, prompting a rule change for the 1937 Derby prohibiting repeat victories.
1960 - After a 24-year absence, the Soap Box Derby returned to the Youngstown area, with the Jaycees sponsoring the event. The Derby was beginning to mature both in rules and construction techniques, with laminated wood racers setting the trend. Nationally, Derby fans were beginning to wonder if a boy other than from the Hoosier state would ever win the All-American again. Indiana had crowned national champions for three straight years. Locally the race site was now moved to Leffingwell Road in Canfield. Eleven year old Ralph LaCivita streaked across the finish line winning Youngstown's 4th Soap Box Derby. Ralph's fast white and red racer defeated 49 contestants on that hot July day.
1965 - With yet another 5-year absence, the Derby returned again to Youngstown with more popularity than ever before. In fact "Derby Fever' was truly sweeping across the United States with 252 cities sending local champions to Akron. Locally, with financial support from four local Chevrolet dealers and the Jaycees the event was destined to continue in Youngstown for the future. On a blistering hot July 11th, 10,000 people lined Mahoning Avenue between BeleVista and Schenley Avenues to root on 61 boys to victory. In the end, 12 year old Roy Shook Jr. driving his sleek white "Grampa's Special" beat out Class "A" champ Tommy Woods. After all these years the Shook name is still a part of Derby racing.
1966 - With popularity growing, the Jaycees and the four area Chevrolet dealers vowed to keep the Derby in Youngstown as an annual event. In January of 1966, the Youngstown Vindicator announced they would join the Jaycees as a co-sponsor. The race site was now moved to East Midlothian Blvd. just east of South Avenue to Lake Park Road. But the biggest publicity program the Derby received was the announcement that WFMJ, channel 21 would televise the race, live! Making Youngstown one of the very few cities in the nation to have a local race broadcast. On July 10thm nearly 10,000 race fans, lined both sides of Midlothian Blvd. in 90-degree heat to watch 79 boys coast down the 1,000-foot track in record breaking times. While out there in television land countless others rooted on their favorites watching their tiny black and white TV's. In the final heat, 14-year old, Gary Thompson beat out 11-year old Jeff Stiver with a time 29.72 seconds. Gary's beautiful metallic blue racer also won honors for the best overall designed car award.
1967 - The All-American Soap Box Derby was now 30-years old. Over 50,000 boys across the nation were building cars every year an over 1 million had participated since it's humble beginnings in 1934. Locally 67 boys were spending months building and preparing their racers for the big day. With the second year of use for the East Midlothian track, WFMJ had their cameras positioned for the live broadcast again. On a very humid July 9th the 7th Greater Youngstown Soap Box Derby was off and rolling. There hours later the checkered flag was given to 12-year old Gerald Bogdon after he had eliminated Class "A" champion David Pritchard in the final heat. At the awards banquet, Russ Fons, the assistant General Manager of the All-American Soap Box Derby applauded the Youngstown Derby as "one of the select Derbies in the United States." At the All-American on August 19th, Bogdon drove his royal blue "Mother's Luck" racer to one of the best finishes ever recorded by a Youngstown local champion. Advancing to the third round of elimination he was one of the 27 boys left from the field of 247 that started. However, in that round the camera was not kind, the photo-finished win belonged to a champ from Lansing Michigan who went on to finish fourth overall.
1968 - The Greater Youngstown Area Soap Box Derby was now a annual summertime event. Many of the boys who started racing with the return of the Derby in 1965 were seasoned veterans. With the trends in racer design and construction techniques changing, Derby rules were also changing, added metal could not be used as ballast, metal now had to be a functional part of the car's construction. On Sunday, July 27th East Midlothian Blvd., once again transformed to be the center for speed, awaited 70 eager Derby hopefuls with their dreams of victory. With mild uphill breezes and temperatures in the low 80's, local Derby fans once again came out in droves to root on their favorites. After posting the fastest time of the day in a previous race, 12-year old, Donald Cessna was paired against Class "A" champ, Dan Mullenax for the final heat. Forced to repair his crippled car because of a cracked front airfoils from an earlier heat, Don drove his blue laminated oak racer named "Granny's Go-Getter II" to victory becoming the 8th GYASBD Champion. In Akron, a capacity crowd of 70,000 cheering fans crammed Derby Downs to see 243 Champions compete for $30,000 in college scholarships.
1970 - Derby car design was beginning to change, even though the lay-down type cars were present in the All-American races over the years, the national champion from Midland, Texas definitely won the crowd's approval. In Youngstown, those boys who original raced on Mahoning Ave. with the Derby's return in 1965 were now all in retirement from Derby racing, a new generation of drivers were coming up through the ranks. On July 12th, 67 boys dreaming of speeding Midlothian Blvd. in record times rolled their cars to the starting ramps. On a sunny day in the mid 80's, in final heat, 15-year old, Jay Kocak breezed pass 12-year old, Class "B" champ, Jim Becker. Jay at 5'11" and 155 pounds was the largest boy ever to be crowned a Youngstown champion. A five year veteran to the Youngstown Derby, Jay's beautiful blue and white lacquer racer also won honors for the best Class "A" paint job. On August 15t, Jay also represented Youngstown well in the All-American race. Advancing to the third round of elimination, Jay just missed being in the semifinals after being edged out by the champ from Muncie, Indiana, who went on the finish 6th overall. In car design, the extreme lay-down design was now winning the national championship.
1971 - With race designs changing to lay-downs, the traditional sit-up car was beginning to be non-competitive. With the new design construction techniques changed. Fiberglass bodies were the way to go. Racers were becoming smaller, steering mechanisms were mounted "shot-gunned" style outside the body and designs were becoming extreme. But the biggest Derby announcement was that girls were now allowed to compete. The male dominated Derby was in for a big change. In Youngstown financial backing was improved with an additional support form a new Chevrolet dealer. On Sunday, July 18th, 67 boys (no girls had entered) were optimistic and anxious to race their cars down 950 feet of Midlothian Blvd. once again. Under sunny skies, two lay-down design racers were pitted against each other for the final heat. In lane one, 15-year old Class "A" Champion, Dan Medvec driving a sleek Royal Blue lay down, raced against 12-year old Class "B" champion, Jeff Mentzer driving an extreme Texas-style lay-down in lane two. Tripping the timers in 29.39 seconds, Dan Medvec beat out Mentzer for the local championship. Today, Dan is still active in the local Derby an is a board member.
1972 - The National Control Board that governs the rules and regulations of the Derby was beginning to be concerned with the safety of the extreme lay-down design. New Derby rules required the steering shaft to be paced under the cowl of the body, thus creating a minimum height for the racer. With this change could the lay-down design still be competitive? Locally, 64 boys were ready to race, girls were allowed to enter, but for some reason none did. On July 23rd, under a scorching summer sun, the Midlothian Blvd. track was the center for speed once again. in the final heat, 13-year old, Alan Rovder coasted across the finish line a split second ahead of Class "B" champion Ken Repasky, becoming the 12th local champion to represent Youngstown, in Akron. For the first time in the history of Derby Downs, the All-American was using only lane one and lane three. The race format was changed after exhaustive engineering studies showed inconsistencies between the center lane and the outer lanes. Nonetheless, the lay-down design racer still dominated the 35th All-American with Boulder, Colorado's champ winning the World Championship. A month later, on September 29th, a day that became known as "Black Friday" to Derby fans across America, Chevrolet announced they would no longer sponsor the Derby.
1973 - In January of 1973, the Youngstown Jaycees announced there would not be a Youngstown Derby due to lack of financial support. In Akron only 138 cities were represented and the All-American was marred due to scandal. The 1973 Boulder, Colorado car was found to have an electro-magnet designed into the nose of the racer propelling the car from the start, the boy also turned out to be the cousin of the 1972 World Champion. Unfortunately, due to these events it would take years for the Derby to recover to the high standard in once was.
2000 - After a long-28 year absence, thanks to the Uptown Kiwanis and the Local Firefighters #312, Derby racing returned to Youngstown once again. Over the years Derby rules were changed and racers were now in kit form, taking less than a day to assemble. Three separate divisions, Stock, Super Stock, and Masters allowed boys and girls to race each other in more equal form of competition. The boys that ran in the Derby during the 60's and 70's now had families of their own who were eligible to race. The return of the Derby in Youngstown also brought along a new racing site, Fifth Avenue near the YSU Campus between Arlington and Rayen Avenues. On June 24th and 25th, the first 2 day event for a Youngstown Derby, 64 hopeful boys and girls in the Stock Division prepared their racers for what was the largest Stock Division race in the state of Ohio. Not only was the race the largest in Ohio it was the third largest in America. Unlike the earlier Youngstown races, heat brackets for each day saw the competition run under double elimination with wheel swaps and lane swaps. Although sunny and clear skies prevailed for Saturday's competition, Mother Nature was not that kind for Sunday's racing, morning rains delayed the start, but by Noon a break in the clouds gave way for some very close racing. Using time differentials to determine the winner for each advancing heat, each winner raced against another heat winner, challengers raced against challengers. In the end, it came down to the two young boys, 12-year old, Nathan Horvath driving his blue racer called "The Hurricane" beat out 10-year old challenger Hared Coy to become the 13th Greater Youngstown Soap Box Derby Champion. In July, the All-American Soap Box Derby announced the Youngstown Derby as the "best new race city in America." Thanks to the revival of the Derby back in Youngstown, scrapbooks will be filled once again and photographs will preserve the memories pressed between the pages of everyone's minds.
2001- With the return of the Derby to the Youngstown area and the strong support need for its growth the Greater Area Youngstown Derby was becoming large enough to divide the race within the Stock Division. Establishing the Metro and Suburban divisions now allowed the area to send two local Stock Division champions to Akron. Furthermore, the Super Stock Division was also added to enhance the levels of competitions for drivers too large for the smaller stock car. On June 16th and 17th, under sunny skies, eighty boys and girls drove their racers once again down the 5th Avenue track. The 2000 race marked the first year girls actually raced in local race. This year they definitely proved to everyone how tough they could really be. Making Youngstown Derby history, each division in 2001 was won by a girl. Eleven-year old Jamie Berdnt of Canfield was the first to do it by edging out Brooke Shaffer for the Suburban Stock Championship. Then 14-year old Lindsay Kuebler of Berlin Center beat Jeffery Davis by one one-thousandth of a second to become the Super Stock Champion. Finally, Derby veteran Jennifer Rodway of Boardman beat Tim Morris for the Metro Stock Division Championship to round out the group. This made Youngstown one of the few local cities across the nation to send three girls to the All-American in Akron. Although Brooke Shaffer was edged out in the local Suburban Championship finishing second, she nonetheless accumulated enough points to be a 2001 District 7 Stock Rally Champ, thus earning her also a trip to Akron to compete against other Rally Champs across the nation. With girls winning every segment of the local Derby it certainly proved to the boys, that girls not only know how to race but how to win!
2002 - Growth in the Super Stock Division was strong with a race field now that was more than double that in 2001. Many of the 72 drivers were now seasoned veterans with this being their third year of Derby competition. On June 15th and 16th the 5th avenue hill was once again transformed from a city street into a Gravity Grand Prix speedway. On Saturday, the showers began early and continued all day long dampening the wax jobs but not the spirits of every racer. On Sunday, with the top finalists in each division remaining, the track was fast, with the return of the sunshine, giving way to some very fast and close heats. In the Super Stock Championship, last year's runner-up, 15-year old Jeffery Davis beat Jarrod Shook. Then 11-year old Nicole Romeo beat Dan Borosky for the Metro Stock Championship. Finally for the Suburban Stock Championship 11-year old Ryan Rambo edged out last year's runner-up Brooke Shaffer for the trip to Akron. Rounding out the local Champions going to Akron was last year's Metro Stock Champion Jennifer Rodway, who throughout the year accumulated enough points to be a 2002 District 7 Stock Rally Champ, thus earning her a trip to Akron to compete against other Rally Champs from across the nation. With the continued support and
2003 - With the addition of the Masters Division, the Greater Youngstown Area Soap Box Derby now had 73 drivers competing for multiple titles to earn their way to the All-American Championship in Akron. On Saturday, June 14, the 5th Avenue track once again showcased the skills and determination of each racer. Under cloudy but comfortable temperatures, Derby fans were definitely witnessing Derby history being made. In fact some pretty familiar names were beginning to reach the final rounds in each division. In the Metro Stock division, last year’s runner up, Dan Borosky beat out Stephanie Romero for the Metro Stock Championship. Then Johanna Kuebler edged out Patrick Collins for the Suburban Stock Championship. In even closer competition for the Super Stock Championship, Chris Kuhaneck beat out Alexandria Terrigno. However, in the newly added Masters division, local Derby history was being rewritten
2004 - On Saturday, June 26, under partly sunny skies, Youngstown’s 17th Soap Box Derby was off and rolling. Celebrating the 70th anniversary of the first Youngstown Soap Box Derby, the 2004 race was dedicated to John Fraser, the 1934 Youngstown Champion. John, now 85 show the Derby fans on hand he didn’t lose any of his driving ability over the years. When he got behind the wheel of his oil can racer, he drove it down 5th Avenue in winning style just like he did when he was 15. Once again the local Derby history book was being rewritten with 67 eager youngsters ready to race. With the local Derby split between 5 separate divisions, a record number of 5 champions would be sent to the All-American in Akron. As the final rounds of elimination unfolded, Anthony Bowell edged out Marissa Gorvet for the Metro Stock Championship. Then in Suburban Stock, it was all in the family when Brooke Shafferbeat her younger sister McKenzie for the Suburban Stock Championship. In the Super Stock divisions some of the most experienced seasoned veterans return once again to the final rounds. Last year’s runner-up, Alexandria Terrigno beat Chris D’Apolito for the Metro Super Stock Championship. In the Suburban Super Stock Championship, The 2001 Suburban Stock Champion, Jamie Berndt, edged out the 2003 Suburban Stock Champion, Johanna Kuebler. In the Master’s division, Beaver Falls native, Loralei Gallaher beat out the 2001 Super Stock Champion and the 2003 Master’s runner-up, Lindsay Kuebler. Also joining the five local champs to Akron, were the two area Rally Champs, McKenzie Shaffer represented District 7 as a Rally Stock division Champ and Jarrod Shook was a Rally Super Stock division Champ. At the 67th All-American, Akron hosted a record number of Champions – 483!! But it was one of our own local champs that made the national media, McKenzie Shaffer was given the Chairman’s award and received a chance to ride with NASCAR racer Tony Stewart in the oil can race and be part of a film production which aired on the Speed Network. Besides the great publicity, the All-American awarded the Youngstown Area Derby, “Outstanding Race City for 2004.”
2005 -Under a broiling June 25 sun, Youngstown’s 18th local Soap Box Derby was off and rolling with competition that was truly record breaking. Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1965 race the 2005 Derby was dedicated to Roy Shook Jr. “Little Roy” showed the crowd that past champions never fade away. When he got behind the wheel of his oil can racer the memories all came back. Pitted against Youngstown’s first Champion 87 year old John Fraser. John once again won in winning style just like he did in 1934. With the races split between three separate divisions 52 racers were eager to get it on. As the day went on, the competition was just as hot and as the final rounds of elimination unfolded, veteran racers were ruling the track. First McKenzie Shaffer edged out Stephanie “Peanut” Romeo for the Stock Championship. Then in Masters, it was all in the family again when Brooke Shaffer beat Stephanie’s older sister Nicole for the Masters Championship. Thus making local history not only by becoming the first pair of sisters to represent Youngstown in Akron in the same year but also by defeating another pair of sisters in the process. In the Super Stock division Brandon Krall beat out the 2003 Metro Stock Champion, Dan Borosky. Also going to Akron were Rally Champs, Jamie Berndt and Johnny Powers representing District 7 as a Rally Stock division Champions. In the Rally Super Stock division, Alexandria Terrigno was another representative. At the 68th All-American, Akron hosted a record number of Champions – nearly 500!! But on Saturday, July 30 at Derby Downs it was the Rally Stock Champion, Jamie Berndt , that, made local history by taking 2nd place in the Rally Stock Division Championship. No local driver from the Youngstown area race ever made it that far in any division at the All-American. Early on the beginning, Jamie showed the crowd she was the one to beat after she posted the fastest time of the day in her first round of competition. Advancing all the way to the final Championship heat she was ultimately edged out by the Rally Stock Champion from Sanford, Florida.
2006 - Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1966 race the 2006 race was dedicated to champ Gary Thompson. Racing against Youngstown’s 1st champion and octogenarian John Fraser, in the traditional oil can race, Gary showed the crowd he was still the “Champ” passing John when John briefly lost control of his racer midway down the track. Under comfortable and sunny racing conditions, 41 racers were ready re-write the history books. Racing for the Stock Division Championship,
Stephanie “Peanut” Romeo edged out rookie racer Daisy Corso. Then for the Super Stock Championship, it all came down to the Shaffer sisters once again, but would
it be Brooke or younger McKenzie? As both veterans raced each other down the 5th Avenue track, it was
McKenzie Shaffer taking Super Stock. As for the Masters Division,
Jamie Berndt, made local Derby history once again by being the first local racer to win all three divisions, Stock, Super Stock and Masters in her racing career, not to mention creating the winning logo for the 69th All-American. Again history repeated itself with Youngstown sending three girls once again to Akron just like in 2001. Also going to Akron representing District 7, as Rally Masters Division Champions were
Alexandria Terrigno and
Kyle Bair. But local history was truly made at Akron once again in the Final Championship heat in the Rally Masters Division when both
Alexandria Terrigno and
Kyle Bair were pitted against each other for the World Rally Masters Championship. With Alex in lane one and Kyle in lane two, Kyle placed 2nd and Alex took 3rd with the World Rally Master Championship going to a boy from Fredericksburg, VA. What a year for our local Champions!!!