Big day for diminutive drivers

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:00 AM ET

EDMONTON - It began with the technical inspection — and ended with a finish line that was “painted” with Robin Hood flour.

Robert Stokowski, of the Northern Alberta Sports Car Club, gave the Formula None cars the once over.

“You know, back in 1947 I raced a soap box derby on the other side of the river, down Walterdale Hill from the High Level Diner. I was nine years old,” he said.

“It was a lot longer course than this,” he said of the 200- footer on Victoria Park Hill, down from LeMarchand Mansion.

“There weren’t any regulations back then. You just built something.”

A good old-fashioned soap box derby — they go back to 1934 in the U.S. — is an appropriate enough start to Race Week in Edmonton.

But this, with fans lining both sides of the hills as the kids raced the entry-level soap boxes — nothing like the modern aerodynamic ones they run at the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio — was an event on training wheels that hopefully will evolve into the final of a series of races all over the Pacific Northwest leading to the grand finale at the Edmonton Indy.

But, after a trial run last year, this was the actual beginning of the Race Week event, with actual starting ramps and organization and a vision for the future.

This year, along with a race using the same $120 basic kits for an event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of St. Albert, there was an organizational team in place to turn it into something.

This one came with a variety of sights and sounds as Riley Smith, Brandon Dundas and Dustin Proctor won the 6-7, 8-10 and 11-12 age group categories.

Sights?

Well, the first race was won by Jeremy Poulin in his Scooby Doo-themed car when the girl he was supposed to race against got scared sitting in her car at the top of the ramps on the tire-lined course.

Luke Holm, in the No. 29 car, had more advertising decals on his racer than any of the 26 cars expected to run in Sunday’s IZOD Indy Car race.

But seven-year-old Damien Lee should have won some sort of prize for having the most professional looking operation of them all.

Not only did he have a 10-person pit crew, all wearing “Iron Damien” T-shirts and holding up a big sign, he had both an in-car camera and a helmet-cam.

One thing Iron Damien didn’t have, however, was his own music.

Daniel Mathon, 7, decided to have his own music coming out of a unit on the back of his car.

“He wanted to add a little extra something,” said mother Jody. “I love this. It takes you back to old-school, before kids had iPods. Except Daniel programmed his music with his iPod, come to think of it.”

Added Daniel: “Next year, I’m coming back with a car I’m going to call The Eliminator.”

Then, like everyone who made it to the flour-painted finish line, he and his ride got a lift in a golf cart back to the starting ramp, and he was handed a mini checkered flag.

“Next year” is the point of this column.

This was only a toe in the water for what RWE executive director Richard Skermer has in mind.

“Go big or go home,” he said.

Skermer sees an Edmonton Indy Soap Box Derby next year that not only kicks off the final countdown to the Edmonton Indy, but is actually a final to a whole series of soap box events scattered around the province.

Towns like Cold Lake, Didsbury, Edson, Hinton, Innisfree, Ponoka, Lacombe and Grande Prairie have held them recently.

“Next year, the plan is to incorporate the whole province, as many towns as want to hold one.

“The following year, we want to expand it to all of Western Canada, and by 2013-14, the entire Northwest: Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, etc.” said Skermer.

That fits in well with Canadian Grand Prix Formula One promoter Octane Motorsports Events evolving plan to market the Edmonton Indy as Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest’s celebration of speed.

“The idea is Edmonton reaching out,” said Skermer.

“Have fun holding a soap box derby in your own town, then have the winners come to Edmonton and have fun here.

“Let’s first get as many Alberta towns in play as we can — and then definitely Saskatchewan and B.C.

“Let’s have some good ol’ fashioned fun to use this to kick off Edmonton Race Week every year.”

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca

Twitter@sunterryjones


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