Joey Meara knows his history.
The 12-year-old middle-school student-to-be is well versed in his sport: soap box racing.
A soap box car is described as a motorless vehicle propelled by gravity that can achieve speeds upwards of 70 miles per hour.
“You don’t power it at all,” Joey said of the soap box car. “You put it in the gate and you send it down the hill, and it goes down by gravity – that’s the power. When you go down the hill, you try to go as fast as possible.
“I think it’s fun and there are a lot of things that has changed over the years. In the 1950s or whatever, you actually had to make your own cars. You had to get axles and wheels from a dealership and you just get wood and make your own car. Some cars would be real nice and some cars would be just a couple of pieces of wood and you would just sit on it. It has changed a whole lot. Nowadays you have to buy a kit, and the shape of all the cars are basically the same. The only thing different is the look of it; the color and the paint job on it.”
Joey, a recent graduate of Hawthorn Hill Elementary School, is one of two Lee’s Summit boys headed to Akron, Ohio July 21-27 for the 76th annual All-American Soap Box Derby at Derby Downs. The other is Morgan Bryan, who will race in the Super Kids division for children with special needs.
The week-long event will conclude July 27 with the Great American Race. Joey will represent Kansas City as a rally points champion in the super stock class, one of three classes for drivers.
“Sometimes, it’s just really nerve-racking,” Joey said of the adrenaline rush he gets from racing. “One of my first races that I did really good in, I was in the top three out of 32 people and I didn’t know that. One of the girls that I was racing told me and it was just so nerve-racking because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was so nervous.”
Somewhat of an unknown race sport, soap box racing has been around nationally since the 1930s, and alive and hopping in the Kansas City area since the 1940s. Joey has been involved in the Kansas City Soap Box Derby for five years.
“In the local (qualifying race in June) I did not win first; I got second,” Joey said. “But, I still had enough rally points to go to Akron. Rally points are what you did during the year, so with all the points added up and all that, I had enough points that I was in the top three and able to go to Akron, Ohio.”
According to its website, the not-for-profit Kansas City Soap Box Derby has been holding races since 1947. For the 2013 race season the Kansas City Soap Box Derby introduced a local branch of the National Super Kids, a national organization for soap box racers with special needs.
Morgan, 11, will be the first ever representative from the Kansas City area to compete in the National Super Kid Classic race, which takes place June 26 on the same track as the Great American Race.
Jenni Bryan, Morgan’s mother, said her child’s participation in soap box racing has worked wonders for Morgan. Morgan, also a student at Hawthorn Hill, has Down’s Syndrome.
“He just started this past season,” Jenni Bryan said. “He loves it. It’s all about the adrenaline. It’s been great. He really doesn’t care if he wins or loses; he thinks he’s winning every time. He just loves going down the hill. He’s involved in the Special Olympics and things like that and he’s really involved in school, but this is something outside the box that we never even considered and it’s really fun for him to be involved in.”
The local derby organization, which features several Lee’s Summit residents as parental volunteers, upgraded their track this year located near Arrowhead Stadium, built a new storage facility for the specialized cars, and upgraded their existing equipment.
“Most of our people that run the (Kansas City) Soap Box Derby are from Lee’s Summit,” said Paul Meara, Joey’s father, and president of Kansas City Soap Box Derby. “There’s a little built of an underground community of Soap Box people that are from Lee’s Summit and Kansas.”