Dave Best, one of more than 30 volunteers at the derby, counts down to the first race of the day. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Dave Best, one of more than 30 volunteers at the derby, counts down to the first race of the day. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Hay bales and high fives for Port Alberni soapbox derby

New track on Lower Argyle Street gets a thumbs up

MIKE YOUDS

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

Riders, volunteers and spectators gave a relocated derby course the thumbs up Saturday as the third annual Little Lightning in the Valley rolled, weaved and spun down Lower Argyle Street.

After a team of Kinsmen took extra time to ensure safety and readiness of the hay bale lined track, 37 kids took turns climbing onto their home-built, gravity powered carts for the downhill thrills. Speed wasn’t a concern — most racers clocked well under 30 km/h — but steering control appeared to be the greatest challenge, just keeping the carts on course.

“Don’t turn your wheel,” advised Cydney Gagnon, 10, racing a second year. “Don’t press your brakes,” while descending the course, she added.

Families are required to a use prescribed chassis kit for their soapbox creations but used all sorts of creative adaptations for the bodywork, paint and accessories. No two carts were the same.

“What went into making it? Time,” said Jeremy Russell, whose son Conner, 10, was raring to go in a plywood contraption, a mock air intake labelled 500 horsepower atop its hood. Like a lot of participants, he raced for his first time.

“I’d never even heard of it before,” said his mom, Jill. “Are you sure? Are you sure,” she asked the boy after he brought home a school newsletter mentioning the derby.

“They’ve been working on their carts for the last few weeks, mostly painting and building with their dad,” said Teri Thompson, whose daughter Ryann, 6, was joining her brother Seth, 9, in his third event.

“I have it on good authority that the next racer turns 8 today,” said derby announcer James Huysmans from his booth at the bottom of the course. His son, Lucas, aced the course and won the race.

“Great race by the birthday boy! Great race by both racers!”

Locally famous for its steep hills, Port Alberni is no stranger to soapbox derbies. Registered events were staged and competitors toured to other derbies during the heyday of soapbox racing in the mid-20th century. A former Kinsman suggested reviving the derby as a community event the club could support, said organizer Jason Ferguson.

“Safety’s our number one priority every year,” Ferguson said. This time, Kinsmen from Campbell River, Nanaimo and Ladysmith helped out while scrutinizing the event for their communities.

The club plans reach a break-even point on its costs by Year 5, while adding an adult category for next year.

“We invited adults last year but there weren’t enough applicants,” Ferguson said.

He invites spectators to share their photos of the event on the club’s Facebook page.

Port Alberni RCMP Speed Watch volunteers also assisted at the event. Organizers had reached out to the police, requesting assistance on race day to capture the speeds of the carts as they flew down Argyle Street. Six Speed Watch volunteers helped make the races extra fun for all participants, as their speeds were captured and displayed for them as they raced down the roadway.

 

Lower Argyle was lined with hay bales and an estimated 400 spectators. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Lower Argyle was lined with hay bales and an estimated 400 spectators. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

A Speed Watch volunteer records the speed of racers as they fly down Argyle Street. SUBMITTED PHOTO

A Speed Watch volunteer records the speed of racers as they fly down Argyle Street. SUBMITTED PHOTO