Soap Box Derbies

Kids making cars out of wood boxes goes back about as far as since cars have been around. And in particular, soap boxes seemed to be a good place to start. 

Norman Rockwell - Saturday Evening Post - Jan 9, 1926

Then in 1933, a youth program was organized for building and racing these home made soap box racers. The first official All-American race was held on August 19, 1934 in Ohio, and then the country seemed to join in the craze. 

How to Build a Soap Box Racer - Published 1938

Instruction books with tips and designs could be found for anyone who was serious about being a contender in their local races. 

Soap Box Racer Instructions - Published 1936

The official national competition took a hiatus during World War II, but in 1946 the races began to take off even faster. This time, the little town of Goldsboro decided to get in on the action, sponsored by the Goldsboro Fire Company as a part of their annual celebration. 

The York Gazette and Daily - Aug 31, 1946

Kids from ages 11 to 15 could race. They needed to be sponsored by a local business, which would pay for the cost of the wheels. The design and construction was led by many of the dads, with help from their sons that would be the racer. 

Carman Gross, sponsored by Thomas Smith Ice Co.

Goldsboro had a lot more local businesses back then that could sponsor the local boys.

The Reeser's Restaurant Racer

The racers would line up on the hill coming into Goldsboro, on West Broadway. 

The lineup at the top of West Broadway

In the town square near the memorial is where the announcers would setup to call the races. 

The announcer in the center of the square

The racers would go down the hill, across Broadway, around the roundabout with the memorial, and across the finish line on the other side. 

Looking east down Broadway

The ramp for the start of the race was next to the parsonage of the Church of God. Traffic was rerouted around Goldsboro by the State Police. 

Larry Repman, sponsored by Commercial Hotel, York Haven

The racers would roll down the starting ramp and gain speed down the hill, then coast on the flat road to the finish line. 

Racing past the memorial

As racers whizzed past the square, judges were there to record their times and keep their scores. 

The announcer and judges

At Goldsboro’s first soap box races in 1946, Carman Gross won first place. 2nd prize went to Wendell Rehm, driver for Eppley’s Store in Newberrytown. 3rd prize went to Larry Repman, driver for the Commercial Hotel in York Haven. 

Carman Gross and Thomas Smith - 1946 1st Place Winner - $20 prize

The three day festival put on by the Fire Company in 1946 was well attended. About 1,500 people were there to watch the races. 

The York Daily Record - Oct 1, 1946

The first Goldsboro Soap Box Derby was so sucessful, they decided to do it again the next year, and this time it would be over the Fourth of July weekend 1947. 

The York Dispatch - Jul 1, 1947

Other towns in York County also held their own derby races, like in Red Lion, Windsor and York. The hobby continued to grow in America throughout the rest of the 1940s and into the 1950s. 

The York Daily Record - Jul 19, 1947

Goldsboro continued to hold races for at least a few more years, still sponsored by the Goldsboro Fire Company. 

The York Gazette and Daily - Aug 10, 1948

Over time, at least in Goldsboro, the racer derby craze started to fizzle out. Nationally, the races still continue to this day, with the national championship happening every year still in Ohio.

Derby Downs - Akron, Ohio

Years later, you can still find an old racer in a barn or a garage from back in the day. 

Carman Gross re-assembling his vintage racer in order to sell

Carmen Gross, with his winning racer from 1946, was reused and sponsored by Boy Scouts Troup 56 in Goldsboro. But, it had been a loooong time since it had seen any action, so he decided to sell it.

Ebay ad - Vintage Soap Box Racer for sale

If anyone in the area has any more photos of soap box derby races or cars from the area, please contact us as I would love to make some scans of them for our archive. 

*Special thanks to Lynetta Gross and Harriet Reeser for sharing their photos for this article.

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