AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — One sure sign that life in Northeast Ohio is getting back to normal after the pandemic is the return of the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron at near full capacity. 

Harnessing the power of gravity, young racers rocketed down the hill at Derby Downs in the Rubber City on Saturday for the 84th running of the derby. For the skilled drivers and their parents, making it to Akron is the culmination of months and even years of hard work.

After designing and building their cars, young racers like Gerald Hudson of Clearfield, Pennsylvania, qualified for the All-American Derby by accumulating enough points in a series of soap box rallies held around the U.S. since last Summer, or by winning regional races.

Gerald’s mother, Jacqueline Graham, told FOX 8, “it’s an awesome bonding experience, most children don’t have an experience to bond with their parents as well as most of the soap box derby kids do. We’re very close, we’re always side by side, working elbow to elbow.”

The Soap Box Derby was wiped out by the pandemic in 2020, and was at limited capacity  in 2021.

“Last year, we only had about 60% of our entries, we have about 90% of our entries this year. We’ve added a STEM fair, a lot more activities for the kids to do, and it’s a great family event,” said Mark Gerberich, President of the International Soap Box Derby.

For many families, the derby is more than just a race, it’s a passion.

“A lot of people take their vacations in Akron, which is kind of funny. One of our families bought a vacation home in Akron. They live in California during the Winter,” said Gerberich.

In all, 320 regional champions competed for six different titles on Saturday, but it turns out, the lessons learned at Derby Downs go beyond winning and losing.

“They take away a lot of important information that they can deal with as adults later on in life, you know socialization skills, math, science, it has it all,” said Jacqueline Graham. 

The young drivers were not only racing for trophies, they were also competing for a share of scholarship money, through the Bill Speeg Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Speeg became involved in Soap Box Derby in the late ‘90s, when his daughter began racing, and he became well known for his support of the All-American Derby, and his efforts to mentor young racers. Bill Speeg passed away in 2014 at the age of 46.