Soap Box Derby racers turn up the heat

Youths compete at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds

Anna Sheffer
Super stock finalists Aly Corvin and Camden Martin compete for first place in the Sertoma Mile High Soap Box Derby at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds on June 22.
Anna Sheffer
The top five super stock racers pose with their trophies. From left to right: Adam Smith (fourth place), Aly Corvin (second place), Camden Martin (first place), Clare Mahoney (third place), Elena Martinez (fifth place).
Anna Sheffer
AJ (right) and Chaelyn (left) Sipres exercise some healthy sibling rivalry in the final heat of the stock car race.
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Summer means the end of school, but for Soap Box Derby drivers, it has an additional meaning: racing season.
The eighth annual Sertoma Mile High Soap Box Derby took place at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds on June 22, with drivers ages 7-18 competing to bring home first place and attend the World Championship finals in July at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio.
The Mile High Soap Box Derby had a rocky start until Sertoma began sponsoring the event eight years ago. Sertoma, which helps people with speech and hearing disabilities, partnered with the derby, and both organizations have had better exposure as a result. This is the second year that the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds hosted the derby. Previously, it was held in Littleton.
Diane Oppenheim, one of the volunteers from Sertoma, said the fairgrounds benefited the event.
“That was our longtime goal,” she said, “to get a permanent place to block off the street.”
The competition consists of two weight classes — stock cars, which weigh 200 pounds, and super stock cars, which weigh 230 pounds. Drivers race in heats consisting of two one-one-one races. Racers swap two wheels with their competitors before phase one of each heat and then swap all four wheels before phase two of each heat in order to discourage unfair tampering with the cars' wheels. And though factors like the weight of the car impact the outcome of a race, drivers still race strategically.
“It's really about the drivers and not about the cars,” said Buzz Pankoff, Soap Box Derby director.
In order to increase speed, each racer hunches as close to the wheel as possible while still looking over the hood of the car. The difference in times between two competitors can come down to fractions of a second, so racers make themselves as aerodynamic as possible — even tucking their hair into the backs of their shirts. And the racers are as varied as they come. They include veterans, first-timers and one unique car, Caidn Matthews, who races using a handbrake.
Every racer worked hard, but at the end of the day, only one driver per weight class could win.
First-year racer Camden Martin, 10, won the super stock division. “[Winning] feels great 'cause it's my first year ever,” Martin said.
In the stock car division, siblinga AJ Sipres, 8, and Chaelyn Sipres, 11, went head-to-head for first place. Chaelyn took home first and AJ second.
“It felt fun because he always thinks he's the winner and I showed him better today,” Chaelyn said with a grin.