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Joyce Endee

At NHMS, a different kind of race

Local teens tackle Loudon in soap box derby cars

JACOB ROY climbs into his car as he readies for a race Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His sister, Ashlee, was pitching for the Prospect Mountain JV softball team and missed the morning’s first races. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
May 18, 2011
LOUDON — Cars going head-to-head at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is not out of the ordinary.

However, the action that took place over the past weekend certainly was a bit different from the roaring engines of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series that come through town twice a year.

In fact, the cars in question didn't have engines, didn't need gas and were piloted by kids.

The race was a two-day affair for All-American Soap Box Derby participants and took place at the speedway's southern entrance access road, with drivers running their cars down the road that funnels all northbound traffic into the track during each NASCAR event.

For the Roy family of Alton, this was a great opportunity to get out and run a race very close to home as the two Roy children look to race their way to the big race in July in Akron, Ohio.

Jake and Ashlee Roy, 13 and 14 respectively, were just two of the many racers from around the Northeast who descended on Loudon to try and earn points to qualify for the national race.

The teens' father, Dwayne, noted that the kids have been going around to numerous local races and recently returned from Danbury, Conn., where they competed in a large field.

Roy couldn't thank New Hampshire Motor Speedway enough for their hospitality, noting that the Soap Box Derby races began when Alton's Bob Bahre owned the track and new owner Bruton Smith has allowed the races to continue.

"We can't thank these guys enough for all the stuff they do," Roy said of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway ownership and staff.

From the beginning, it's obvious that sportsmanship is one of the hallmarks of Soap Box Derby, at least on this weekend, as drivers climb into their cars and exchange good luck wishes with the other drivers before the gate is released and their cars head down the hill.

The cars are positioned on ramps with a gate in front of them at the top of the hill. When the starter hits a lever, both gates fall and the two cars head down the hill in their respective lanes. The idea is to find the fastest way to the bottom. Most drivers on the Loudon course chose to stay to the left of their lane as they made their way to the bottom.

The Roys race in the super stock division, the second of three divisions in All-American Soap Box Derby racing. The stock division is for first-time drivers learning the sport, while super stock is for those who have advanced a bit more in their driving and the masters division is for those who are at the top of the class.

The cars for each division are a little bit different, but there is a lot of sharing of cars going on.

In fact, at Saturday's race in Loudon, two cars that formerly were run by the Roys were being piloted by other drivers in the stock division.

"The lend cars to people that don't have them," Roy said. "When I got into it (with his kids), they let me use a car."

And the sponsors continue to get their money's worth, as local sponsors remained on the cars piloted by other drivers.

"If someone wants to get their kids in a car, we can get them a car," Roy said. "It's a great family event."

The drivers are randomly paired up and then, for fairness, switch two wheels with their race opponent. They hit the course for one run, switch wheels again and then go for another run in opposite lanes, with the combined times being what's counted. The switching wheels and running both lanes are both done to assure the race is as fair as possible.

This weekend's events included a double-elimination and single-elimination round on Saturday and the same on Sunday. Drivers earn 40 points for first place, 35 for second place, 30 for third place and down the line. Drivers who pick up 180 points automatically qualify for the Akron event in July.

However, it's a bit more complicated than that, according to Jim Frost, one of the most experienced guys in attendance at Saturday's race.

He explained that the drivers can only use their four best places over the course of the season when calculating points. Therefore, if someone had four different wins, they'd have 160 points. From there on, in order to reach 180, they have to compete in races and they earn one point for each race.

A racer who won both the double-elimination and single-elimination races on Saturday could pick up 80 points for the day, while someone who already had four wins under his or her belt, would've just picked up two points.

This format sends drivers looking for races all around the region and was the reason why the New Hampshire Motor Speedway parking lot had trailers and trucks from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York, among others. Michael Morawski of Albany, N.Y. was one of the top racers in Loudon, as he was a top finisher in Akron last year.

"I've heard of people who drove 19 hours to race," Roy said. "And there's stories of people getting on a plane for a race somewhere."

The other way to get into the Akron race in July is to win at the state level in Dover coming up in June. The winners there automatically move on to Akron.

Roy also wished to thank the local sponsors who signed on to help fund the cars.

Alton True Value, Testing and Coring Company and Alton Sign were the three companies featured on the Roys' cars over the weekend. Roy was incredibly grateful to the local businesses for stepping up and helping out even in tough economic times.

"It helps bring down the registration fees," Roy said.

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