The first All-American Soap Box Derby was held in the U.S. state of Ohio in the early 1930s. Since then, millions of children have gotten behind the wheel of a home-made, motor-less (gravity powered) car as it races downhill. And for many, the sport has become a family tradition with multiple generations getting involved.
Ken Tomasello’s granddaughter, Aspen, was among the competitors at the Greater Washington Soap Box Derby, an annual, day-long event on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.
This was the 10-year-old's second time at the event. This year, about 40 children, ages seven to 17, raced in the hand-built cars that rely solely on gravity to move.
Tomasello said Aspen has a big advantage over some her competitors as he himself, as a former racer, has accumulated over the course of more than 40 years the knowledge of what’s important and what’s not so important in running the race.
“When I was 13 years old, I saw a race on TV and asked my dad if he could get me into it. And he did.”
Tomasello said he's been hooked ever since. "I raced, and my son, my two daughters, and I have two sisters that raced and now my grandkids are racing. My son’s got three kids that are racing in the race today.”
The American tradition of Soap Box Derbies started in 1934 in Akron, Ohio. The sport was most popular across the U.S. in the late 1940s, 50s and 60s when millions of Americans watched or took part in some form of derby activity every year.
Steve Danahy is the director of the Washington Soap Box Derby.
"Winners of [the Washington] D.C. [competition] will race at the All American Soap Box Derby in Akron, where they race with winners from other cities of the United States, and also cars from Japan, Germany, New Zealand, and Canada will be racing. So it is kind of a world championship.”
Besides the actual races, the Tomasellos enjoy other elements. Children and adults get together on the weekends leading up to the events to build a car for each racer.
“It is a fun thing to do with your kids, and it is also a nice project to do with kids. And it is a fun competition for the kids as well. That is why we like it so much.”
Tomasello’s son, Joe, who raced from age seven to 17, said he has had many fond memories with his father.
“We bonded a lot especially driving to races. I am keeping the family tradition since I have already had three [children racing] and now I have two more [who will race soon]. I am sure one of them won’t be able to let it die, let the tradition die. I think it will keep going. And I will be a big part to help.”
Joe’s daughters, Brittany and Aspen, are already planning to carry on the tradition.
“I love the experience. I would definitely pass on to my kids in the future," said Brittany. “When I grow up, I want to keep the family tradition going,” added Aspen.
At the 2013 Washington Soap Box Derby, Aspen won in the Stock division, Brittany in Super Stock and their brother Brendon came in second place in the Masters division.
“I feel really good, you can’t ask [for] much better than that. Awesome day,” said Ken Tomasello summing up the event. He added that the family will have another opportunity to bond when it makes the trip to the finals in Akron in July.