By Kathryn G. Menu; photography by Michael Heller
One is designed to resemble a garbage can, another a tractor. A hammerhead shark is expected to make an appearance, but the only thing that will matter this Sunday is how fast they go.
The Sag Harbor Soap Box Derby will be revived this Sunday on High Street, following a Main Street parade — events organized for local cub, boy and girl scout troops, but also for a community that has always prided itself on its old fashioned nature.
Organized by Sag Harbor Cub Scout Pack 455 leaders Laurie Barone-Schaeffer and Geraldine Merola, Sunday’s race will feature a total of 34 racers. Cub Scout Pack 455 will have 19 racers competing Sunday, with Boy Scout Troop 455 entering five drivers into the competition. Sag Harbor Girl Scout Troops 152, 413 and 2996 will have 12 racers in Sunday’s derby.
The derby will feature first, second and third place awards in three different age divisions. On Tuesday, Barone-Schaeffer said her race roster includes children as young as six and as old as 17.
“This whole idea started out as a den project for my scouts, but once it got off the ground we wanted to open this up to all the scouts of Sag Harbor,” said Barone-Schaeffer. “The response has been overwhelming.”
Race day will begin with a parade down Main Street at 1 p.m., featuring the drivers and their derby cars, transported by trailers donated from local businesses like Keith Grimes, Inc., Corwith’s Auto Body and Rapid Recovery Towing.
The Sag Harbor Fire Department, the charter organization for Boy Scout Troop 455, will join the troops in the parade, as will members of Jordan’s Initiative, the not-for-profit honoring Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, a Sag Harbor resident killed in action in Iraq in 2008. This year’s race has been dedicated in his honor.
Also joining the parade will be two special guests —Sergeant First Class (SFC) Russ Littel, who recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and Brad Vollmoeller, a Medford man who will display his antique derby car.
The parade will take the racers down Main Street, up Bay Street and to Rysam Street where they will set up at the High Street track, constructed by Chris Cook of Cookhouse Construction.
And then it is off to the races.
“When you take a step back and look at what is going on with our kids today — they are getting so wrapped up in video games and living in a cyber world,” said Barone-Schaeffer. “This is an event that is getting them out there, into the community.”
From connecting with local business owners — many of which have sponsored specific cars in the race — to working on radio advertising and constructing their own racers, Barone-Schaeffer said the scouts have been involved in every aspect of the race.
“This is a community coming together for some old fashioned fun, but it is also bonding with parents, learning to use tools and be creative, working with local businesses,” she said.
Learning about local not-for-profits like Jordan’s Initiative and Katy’s Courage, sponsors of the race, has been another learning experience for the scouts.
Katy’s Courage, a not-for-profit founded in memory of Sag Harbor resident Katy Stewart who died in 2011 at the age of 12 from a rare form of liver cancer, will have tent at the after-party at Havens Beach. Stewart’s brother, Robert, is one of Sunday’s racers.
Jordan’s Initiative founder, Christian Haerter — Jordan’s father — has created bumper stickers and license plates for all of the racers, and sponsored a car.
“We want to incorporate all our community organizations into a day like this, so that it really does become a day where we celebrate the scouts, but really our community as a whole,” said Barone-Schaeffer.
The celebration really began this past Monday, at the Sag Harbor Elementary School parking lot where racers and their parents proudly displayed their derby cars for the first time at the formal weigh-in in advance of the race.
Ten-year-old girl scout Kiara Bailey-Williams kept her derby car largely under wraps, but said the tin covered, dome shaped racer has already been on the road since she finished building it with her grandfather, Paul Bailey, with help from family friends George Henderson and Val Miller.
“It runs pretty smooth,” she said.
Bailey-Williams, who is sponsored by the Sag Harbor Fire Department, had completed 10 test runs as of Monday, six on High Street. So focused was the racer, that she already had a clear plan of attack for Sunday’s race.
“I am going to put my head down and try and keep as much air from creating resistance,” said Bailey-Williams.
Aidan Ozsu, 6, has also tested his racer.
“At my house we used this little hill,” said Ozsu, sitting in his blue and yellow racer in the elementary school lot on Monday. “It worked good and the brakes worked. But I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to go flying.”
Nine-year-old Emily Glass will be racing in a Suburban Sanitation inspired racer in honor of her sponsor and uncle Ralph Ficorelli, the owner of that company. Glass’s derby car, built with Ficorelli, mimics the company’s logo — an overturned garbage can with a dog’s tail sticking out of it.
“I have never done a soapbox derby race before, and I think its going to be a lot of fun,” said Glass.
Abby Robinson, 8, tested out her purple racer, covered with decals of flowers and smiling monkeys Monday. Next to her sat Bryona Hayes, in a black and red derby car, which would only be complete when it was fashioned with glitter prior to Sunday’s race. Douglas Stisi, sponsored by Keith Grimes, debuted a green and yellow racer resembling a tractor in honor of Grimes, an excavator. Charlie McClean’s sponsor, Tight Lines Tackle, was the reason he decided to construct a hammerhead shark derby car.
Eight-year-old Robert Stewart’s green and yellow racer, with lightning bolts, was crafted over three years, with the help of technology education teacher Andy Rigby — a former student of Stewart’s parents, Brigid Collins Stewart and Jim Stewart.
“I am just going to go straight and hope that I win,” said Stewart, getting ready to test is racer out for the first time.
Stewart, sponsored by the Sag Harbor Service Station, purchased a wheel that mimics the station’s logo for his car.
“We feel Robert will always remember this because of all the time we have put in to this,” said Brigid. “It will be a very special day.”
According to Barone-Schaeffer, other scouting groups regionally have taken notice of what is happening in Sag Harbor.
“It could evolve into something where we have a larger race where kids could qualify for the All American Soap Box Derby,” she said. “But this year it was just about Sag Harbor.”