Taking the wheel, Conshohocken kids continue Fourth of July derby tradition

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    For many, the Fourth of July holiday conjures familiar images of cookouts, parades, and fireworks. But for some, the Fourth of July is Derby Day.

    “When I did this, it was many years ago, and the car was wood,” said Jim Peiffer as he helped his son, Gauge, get their car ready to compete in the 66th annual Conshohocken Soap Box Derby.

    “I tried it one time. I crashed. I broke my collarbone,” Peiffer said. “Now he wants to try to do it — and not break his collarbone.”

    Peiffer’s son joins about 40 other racers, ages 7 to 18, who hope to win a spot in the Soap Box Derby World Championship in Akron, Ohio.

    Mark Marine, the man in charge, first became involved with the Derby in the 1980s. This is his 17th year as the regional director of the Conshohocken derby — and making sure the kids stay safe and have a good time.

    “We check over the cars, make sure they’re built properly and safely,” said Marine.

    A lot of things have changed since the Conshohocken derby started. Now — instead of building your car from a set of blueprints and whatever parts you could get your hands on — most entrants purchase a kit with a fiberglass body and easy-to-follow instructions. After the parts are assembled, racers paint their cars to stand out from the competition.

    The finished product looks something like an Olympic bobsled with wheels.

    Thirteen-year-old veteran racer Emma Manley offered this description of her car: “It’s just like kind of a stretched-out oval-like piece of wood, and then there’s a shell over top,” she said. “In the middle, there’s just a hole where you slide into and you have to like really really get down into it.”

    She said the car can hit 20 or 30 mph.

    “When you’re going down the hill, and you’re at the bottom, you feel like you’re going pretty fast,” Emma said.

    This race will be the first for 9-year-old Samantha Maxwell as a competitor.

    “Well, when my sisters were doing it last year, I went down and I was scared, but now I’m not,” she said.

    Her mother, Laura Maxwell, is happy her youngest daughter can finally join in on the fun.

    “It keeps with tradition. This is something that Conshohocken’s been doing for a very long time, and it’s unique to this area,” said Maxwell.

    Her 10-year-old daughter, Julia, has competed twice before. The Soap Box Derby is about a lot more than winning and losing, Julia said.

    “It’s about just having fun, and I like having fun and racing my car because like it gives me my self-confidence,” she said. “I like driving my car and, it makes me feel really good about myself.”

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