The All-American Soap Box Derby World Championship in Akron, Ohio—a.k.a. “The Greatest Amateur Racing Event in the World”—has been drawing young speed demons from all over the country since 1933. Last July, Portland’s Tucker McClaran took home the first-place trophy. This month McClaran, who just finished eighth grade at da Vinci Arts Middle School, heads back to defend her title and represent the Rose City.
As told to Rachel Ritchie
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I HAD A DREAM of being in the Portland Adult Soapbox Derby on Mount Tabor, but kids can’t be in that. So dad Googled “soap box derby” because he’d seen the world championship on TV as a kid, and he found out there was a club in Salem. We went down to watch a race a few weeks later, and right after that we bought a used car, rebuilt it, and came back for the next race.
I JUST FELL IN LOVE WITH IT. It’s like being on a rollercoaster, except you have total control over the ride, so you can go wherever you want to go. The cars go 30 miles per hour tops, which doesn’t sound that fast, but when you’re in the car, it’s really exhilarating. It’s like the steering wheel is just an extension of my hands.
YOU’RE TRYING TO GET DOWN THE HILL in the least amount of time with the least amount of friction. They try to eliminate as many variables as they can, so that it’s just up to the car, the driver, and gravity. The hill is 900 feet, and it usually takes around 29 seconds to get down.
WE KEEP MY STEERING WHEEL SUPER-TIGHT, torqued really high. The reason I like it so tight is that it helps keep control. There are bumps and cracks and pebbles and acorns all over the track, and if you have it super-loose going over bumps, you get off your line. I know only one person whose steering is almost as tight as mine.
ALL CARS ARE BUILT TO SPEC, so you have to use specific parts in specific ways. I built my Super Stock car in a day, and I built two other cars in an afternoon. I can pretty much build one in my sleep now.
THE FIRST TIME I WENT TO AKRON for the world championship, in 2008, I crashed. They said it was the worst crash in 30 years. I was driving a really aggressive line. There had been a thunderstorm that day, and we watched the way the water ran down the track, and we had an idea on how to run based on that. On the practice run, I nailed it, and beat the other two kids by more than a car length. But there was a gap at the edge of the track, and I steered too far over and spun out. Then I went again in 2009 and got eighth, and then in 2010, I won.
MY LITTLE SISTER Aubrey is racing now. Her car is called the Little Red Monster, and mine is called the Blue Meanie. She started in 2009, when she was 8. For her very first race, the only advice I gave her was, “Don’t crash!” Last year in Salem, I was the local champion in the Super Stock division and Aubrey was the local champion in the Stock division. That was the first time two sisters had won both.
BOYS AND GIRLS RACE TOGETHER in soap box derby, which I think is really cool. They’ve got these stickers that say, “You just got passed by a girl.” Now, if I do lose to a boy, my dad likes to say, “You got beat by a boy?’” loud enough so that all the boys hear it.
I’M REALLY EXCITED for this year’s world championship. I’ve got to go defend my territory! And hopefully I’ll see some of my racing buds. I’ve met a lot of interesting people. There’s like 40 people who are my friends now that I never would’ve known. We’re all just really devoted, and have an unconditional love for going fast. I know I want to keep doing this forever. The All-American Soap Box Derby World Championship in Akron, Ohio—a.k.a. “The Greatest Amateur Racing Event in the World”—has been drawing young speed demons from all over the country since 1933. Last July, Portland’s Tucker McClaran took home the first-place trophy. This month McClaran, who just finished eighth grade at da Vinci Arts Middle School, heads back to defend her title and represent the Rose City.