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Soap Box Racers

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By Nick Schrager

Inches from the ground, asphalt grinds like a raging belt sander. The sound of rubber rolling on the pavement lets out a dry roar, and the only thing keeping the driver’s butt from meeting the road at 35 miles per hour are four slim tires, a wood floor, and a thin plastic shell that was prefabricated and assembled in a garage. 

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From humble beginnings, soap box racing is an activity enjoyed by children and families all around the world. A bit closer to home, one brother and sister pair are showing the soapbox racing world how it’s done. 

Callie (13) and Lawson (10) Elder could be considered soap box racing heroes. They are going to the All-American Soap Box Racing World Championship later this month. 

In fact, it will be Lawson’s second time competing in the event. 

According to AASBD’s website, Callie and Lawson will compete against more than 500 of the finest soap box drivers in the country and around the world.

Obviously, they’re excited to go.

The pair got their start in June of 2012 when their father, Chad Elder, got a call from John Martin, Louisville’s race director. Martin asked if they could fill up some empty driver’s seats for a race in Louisville.

The family was familiar with soap box racing because of their friend, Mark Bell and his children. The call was all they needed to get started. 

“Chad took them up there the next day and they got hooked,” Karen Elder, their mother said.

According to Chad and Karen, they only planned to do a few races until Lawson took his first win, which sent him to the World Championship for the first time.

Winning is the ultimate goal, but it is not entirely what soap box racing is about. There’s also a big social aspect in the activity.

Callie said she likes to race because she gets to meet and talk with different people from around the country. In fact, she can count on seeing some familiar faces no matter where they are, though Lawson said the rivalry can be carried along, too. 

Many of the racers have custom buttons pressed with their picture, name, and where they are from. Children will swap buttons with each other so they have a souvenir to take home. 

Lawson said he has a whole collection of buttons, but doesn’t remember where he put them.

For both Chad and Karen, the best part about the racing is the sportsmanship and good conduct the children have. 

“These kids, when they race, they get out and shake each other’s hand and say ‘good job’ and go play football until they race again,” Karen said. “There are very few that have a chip on their shoulder.”

“It’s business when they’re in the car,” Chad said. “But when they get out they’re all best friends.”

The cars, the skills

Callie and Lawson will be going to the World Championship for their victories in separate divisions: stock and super stock.

According to the AASBD’s website, the difference between the two divisions is the vehicle and its driver. Stock racing involves a basic car built from a kit. The division is designed to give a novice builders experience. Super stock vehicles, which are also built from kits, are larger and heavier. 

Lawson said the stock cars weigh 200 pounds while super stock cars weigh 240 pounds. Master cars he said, weigh 255 pounds. 

Chad said the cars can be tuned by moving the weights around and balancing the wheels. 

“Lower center of gravity goes faster,” Lawson said.

The cars can cost anywhere from a little over $400 to $600 and take only a few hours to build.

But don’t let the price tag scare you. If you are just getting started, Chad said you can purchase used vehicles before committing to a higher priced kit. 

To further reduce costs, like NASCAR, drivers can be sponsored and have their sponsors’ logos on the car.

But the car is not the only thing that gets a driver a win. Another important factor is skill.

One of the most difficult parts of driving, according to Lawson, is learning the track and staying on the correct lines and lanes. While they do drive in a straight line, Chad said there are certain parts of the road that if you drive on, you’ll go a little bit faster.

Callie and Lawson also have a unique challenge that some other riders may not have: sibling rivalry. 

“Sometimes we have to race each other and if you lose, that’s hard,” Callie said.

World championship 

There are two ways to make to the World Championship: By winning 180 points in multiple rally races or by being a local champion. The Elders are going because of the latter. 

They recently took wins in the stock and super stock division in a local race in Owensboro.

Believe it or not, the World Championship is six days long, but only has one day set aside for racing. 

According to Karen, there are multiple activities throughout the week and they hold a big parade in Akron for all of the children. The drivers are introduced on a stage one by one, she said.

While on stage, the children throw out trinkets to promote their hometowns. 

But for Lawson, his favorite part is the pizza party. 

“They have a big party one night for all the kids. The parents are not allowed,” Chad said.

While the children party it up with pizza, the parents are free to go out for a night on the town. 

As for predicting the outcome of the race, Lawson said he was confident about his sister.

“I think she has a really good chance,” Lawson said. 

Homefront

Like many other sports, soap box racing has changed its participants and their families dramatically. For the Elders, the change has been a positive one. 

Karen said the children have a lot more dedication in every aspect of their life, especially with school work because they know that good grades are what it takes to continue to race.

Chad agreed.

“The kids seem to be focused more, whether it’s school or whatever,” Chad said. “I think it’s helped.”

And the racing is also bringing them closer together. 

“It’s a good family thing,” Karen said. “We support each other and the kids will support each other.”