Fathers and children revved up for annual soap box derby race in Northwest Philadelphia [video]

Over a dozen teams comprised of dads and their youngsters coasted down the hill on the 600 block of W. Johnson Street in homemade derby cars on Saturday.

At Blue Bell Hill’s fourth annual Father’s Day Festival of Speed soap box derby race, friends, family and neighbors cheered from the sidewalks.

”‘Speed’ is an optimistic term,” said festival organizer, Al Parker.
 “It’s a gentle hill. Even the smallest child can do it.”

‘Cat Boy’

Port Richmond resident Vinny Lopiano built his three-year-old son, Eugene, a derby car with a steel frame from a rusted old toy car he found at a friend’s yard sale.

Lopiano, who owns a motorcyle and metal fabrication shop, said he spent between 15 and 20 hours adding steel joints and wheels to the car. Though it was only the size of two skateboards side by side, he said the derby car weighed just under 100 pounds. 

The final touch was painting a giant “E” on the hood for his son, Eugene, alongside with a grinning Cheshire cat with lightning bolt whiskers — the logo for Lopiano’s motorcycle shop. 

“The scheme got grander and grander,” said Lopiano.

Eugene later named named the car “Cat Boy.”

”Adults can ride it too. The load capacity for each wheel is 50 pounds, so it can load 200 pounds,” Lopiano said.

Sucesses and failures

Jon Gifford built his three children a wooden cart with wheels in two hours the day of the race.

“It begins with a lot of research and development in the beginning; my wife’s nagging,” Gifford said.

His massive wooden contraption, the biggest car of the day, collapsed mid-race. The wooden beams attached to the rear wheels snapped under the weight of Gifford’s three children.

”It could have been worse,” Gifford called out.

His neighbors cheered. 

”Every year we’re getting better, dude,” said Gifford, turning to high-five his son. “We solved the gravity problem this year. I was actually kind of relieved. It was starting to go a little too fast.”

Skip Coon, another resident on the 600 block, crafted a cart out of a hand truck and wooden planks.

“Steering is overrated,” Coon said, who built his car in an hour. “‘Good health insurance’ is what I think I’ll name it.”

The neighborhood went to great lengths to create the atmosphere of a legitimate derby race for the kids, from checkered flags hanging over the street, to printed shirts and a massive sign.

The adults had beers and barbecue. 

Parker spray painted gold trophies out of bicycle gears for the winners. Categories included kid-built cars, best spirit and people’s choice.

”Even that spectacular failure is enough to win some type of award,” says Parker, pointing to the collapsed wooden skeleton of Gifford’s car.

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