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Soap box racer heads for the big downhill

Soap box racer heads for the big downhill

A North Shore City school student heads for the USA this week as New Zealand’s national soapbox derby champion in an attempt to wrest the world title from the Americans.

Kristin School pupil Alex Keall will try to win the World Championship of Soapbox Derby racing in Akron, Ohio, on July 27, and become the first non-American to win in the competition’s history.

Alex (15) recently won the NZ Championship on Glenfield’s Kaipatiki Road in a race that saw him beat ten year-old Josh McGhee of Birkenhead Primary by 1000th of a second in a final that was watched by some 2000 spectators. Going with him will be his special ‘All American’ soapbox derby car painted all black with the motto ‘Kiwi Challenge 2003’.

This year’s event in the USA will be the sixty-sixth, and more than 400 children between the ages of nine and 16 and from all over the USA go to Akron every year to compete. Alex, entered in the ‘Super Stocks’ category, will be one of only six ‘foreign’ entries – the others come from Japan, Philippines, Costa Rica, Germany and France.

The Director of the New Zealand Soapbox Derby, Paul O’Brien, says soapbox derby racing in the USA is a huge sport and competition is intense. “American entrants have to win their State Championship in one of three classifications to earn the right to compete,” he says.

“Communities all over the States organise hundreds of races that enable competitors to gain experience driving the mandatory kit set cars downhill at speeds of up to 60kph. Last year the World Championship was attended by more than 40,000 spectators with live television coverage going out on the American TV sports network.

“Alex has been preparing for Akron by getting in plenty of practice. In May, he and Josh travelled to the Waiheke Island Trolley Derby for an exhibition race, so impressing the locals that Waiheke Primary School has been specially invited to compete in the NZ Derby in 2004,” Mr O’Brien says.

“Alex is travelling with a small contingent of supporters from New Zealand and he believes he can be the first foreigner to win. But like the America’s Cup, the rules are very strict. He reckons you need a degree in science to make sure your soapbox car complies in every respect. It’s just as well Alex and the other NZ competitors built their cars as part of a science and technology education module at their school.”

Alex will arrive in the USA ahead of the July 27 race day to put in a week’s practice down the 340m custom-built three-lane track in Akron.

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