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Bill Gives Soap Box Derby a Kick-Start

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) set the wheels in motion last week to once again bring scores of enterprising local youths to the doorstep of the Capitol for a day of fast-paced competition in the Greater Washington Soap Box Derby.

This year’s 63rd annual event, which will take place June 19, is expected to draw some 70 area children who will thunder down the Hill along a stretch of Constitution Avenue in homemade racing machines for a chance to qualify for the soap box derby world championships.

Hoyer’s bill, which he has sponsored for the past several years, authorizes the use of the Capitol grounds for the event. It passed in the House last week and will now go to the Senate for final approval.

The derby’s organizer, George Weissgerberger, said Capitol construction projects near the race route between Delaware Avenue Northeast and Third Street Northwest may force drivers to move their tune-up pits, but is not expected to disturb the race route too much.

“This event has been called ‘the greatest amateur racing event in the world’ and is a wonderful opportunity for our children from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to venture into the world of science by creating their own basic style car, while experiencing the spirit of competition,” Hoyer said in an e-mail statement.

Weissgerberger said the race features three divisions that run head-to-head matchups in a double-elimination tournament. Participants range in age from 9 to 16 and come from Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Soap box racing in Washington dates back to 1938, according to Weissgerberger, a research and development vice president at Case Design/Remodeling Inc. in Bethesda, Md. The event has been moved around Washington from Eastern Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue, and it finally settled on the Capitol grounds 12 years ago with Hoyer’s help.

Over the years, soap-box racing in the District has enjoyed the support of prominent Washingtonians such as former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who at one time sat on the board of the derby.

Weissgerberger, who said he “married into a soap-box family,” has seen two of his children go to the world championships in Akron, Ohio — an event which usually draws about 450 to 500 racers each year. He said he is optimistic that the Washington region will finally have a world champion this year.

“One thing we haven’t been able to do is win the world championship as a D.C. representative. We’ve been knocking on the door for years,” he said, citing recent second- and third-place finishes in Akron. “We’re way overdue.”

D.C. City Councilwoman Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8) is one local leader who said she is eager to attend this year’s derby — she started coming to the races two years ago. Allen, who had about 20 racers participate from her ward last year, is especially excited to see the second running of the “Sandy Allen” car, which ran last year and was put together and painted by a group of children from her ward.

“It’s a wonderful and great event for the young people,” she said.

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