Dexter Derby Reignited

By on 23 January, 2013 in Fun with 4 Comments

There was once an event in downtown Montgomery that drew throngs of citizens to either Montgomery St or Dexter Ave. It united all ages to celebrate culture, camaraderie and engineering; or simpler put, the boldness of the human character. From the 1920s to the 1980s, soap box derby racing was a common occurrence on these streets. Families, neighbors, or friends would get together and build simple non-motorized automobiles from scratch and then put themselves at the whim of gravity and inertia for the chance to cross a finish line, to take their place as a champion. Now, these champions have long since been forgotten in the folds of history, and derby racing has faded completely from those streets we cherish as part of ourselves.

In the derby’s waning days, a young man clung to a steering wheel. Before him lay the achromatizing dreams his father had once realized, and his penultimate goal of the derby car championship in Canton Akron, Ohio. The only thing that separated him from his glory was the glistening asphalt of the road ahead.

The car was hooked and elevated on the starting ramp. The crowd had assembled for the final trial of the day’s last heat. His sweaty palms gripped the steering wheel white-knuckled as the starting gun was raised, finger on trigger, ready to signal the start of the race. He had drawn the bumpy lane, but this did not deter him.

As you look into his eyes today, some 20 years later, the story comes to life as a moving picture. The excitement of every bump, the roar of every individual as one crowd of blurred faces rushing past, and the line as it approached, every detail in his mind became vivid and filled the room like a torso with the breath of life. With that same excitement, he explained that in the end, only mere inches had sundered him from the slick streets of Ohio. After months of building, sweating, practicing and doing, he had lost, but you wouldn’t have known it from watching him relive the event. Ultimately, his boldness had won him something far greater than some brass relic bearing his accomplishment. He had grown as an individual, incorporating characteristics that shaped him into a leader in our community and the man that he is today.

Many would have considered this defeat crushing, for an individual to have worked so diligently towards the accomplishment of a goal, towards greatness and not to have reached your mountain top. Yet, others take their greatness from the journey, simply finding a renewed strength in the doing of something great. It is those who can find the value of each experience that will persevere through victory or defeat, and move to even bolder action with each passing day. The gift of each day and the desire to seize each will become the reward given by the individual towards the creation of a great culture.

Soap box derby racing is far more than winners with dusty trophies to be forgotten, or the ones that fell short by inches during one exciting moment. It is about creativity, ingenuity, and camaraderie as much as it is about competition. Soap box derby racing is just one more chance to be bold. It is an opportunity to do something a little different. It is a chance to learn something new. As a community, it is a chance for excitement, from the sidewalks or from behind the steering wheel.

“Everyone rich or poor, deserves a shelter for the soul,” said Samuel Mockbee. As an artist and architect in rural west Alabama, he found a way to proceed and be bold amidst the area’s profound poverty. Every day he sought ways to enrich his community with his unique talents. He found a way to blend education with creativity and the needs of his community, leaving a legacy of greatness in the wake of his actions

It is up to each individual to continually seek bold action, to overcome fears or complacency and use every decision to build a stronger community for us all. It is the responsibility of a civilization’s citizenry to distinguish it culturally. It is up to us all to leave good in the trail of action, or find growth where deficiency may be self-evident.

Any Alabamian can find greatness here in Alabama. Whether we one day find ourselves racing down Dexter Ave in a self-built soap box derby racer, or using an architecture class to gain experience for a career while providing unique dwellings to families in dire need of shelter, by embracing bold actions, you can find growth within your community. Whether just taking a walk in the setting sun beside the Alabama River, or refusing to rise from a bus seat because it just isn’t right, we as a people can find opportunities for the enrichment of humanity, or for even just for ourselves. We grow with the experiences we create, and with the simplest decisions, we as individuals can even cause a great evolution for all of humanity from this humble place called Alabama.

At the Montgomery Street Fair, a group of bold volunteers seek to revive the rich history of the soap box derby in Montgomery. They present this chance to be bold to all ages in the form of a race down the steep incline of Dexter Ave. We will build cars and with the phenomenal cooperation of our city leaders, we will turn Dexter Ave into a raceway.

Together as one cultural expression, we will amass and cheer as hand crafted sculptures scream, streaking through a revived downtown. As a people, we will come together in celebration of our city. On May 11, we will celebrate the rebirth of an event that was about to slip from our memories. We hope you will come and support this celebration of community.

This will be the 2nd Montgomery Street Fair. The first events theme was, “revival”. With this year’s event we continue to find ways to reinvigorate the parts of our cultural identity that withered in the passing of time. This year we are “A little bit older, a little bit bolder.” So we have grown as a group, and now we will raise the bar for the event by re-introducing soap box derby racing to Montgomery. So, if you liked the local music, crafts, arts, food, acrobats, dance, performance art, Chris’ Hotdog Eating Contest, or any other of the events of last year’s street fair, please come and show your support for being a little bolder, even if you might be a little older. Let us come together as a community to celebrate our great culture as a people.

Jeremy Adams is a native and resident of Montgomery. He is an artist, writer, father, husband and entrepreneur, working every day to further the city that inspires him. As former operator of The Montgomery Street Coffee Shop, and a current volunteer with Helicity, he has and continues to find ways to assist with the revitalization of Downtown Montgomery.

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There Are 4 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Jay Croft says:

    Canton? Huh?

    No. The All American Soap Box Derby championships have always, always been held in Akron, Ohio. I lived in Akron 1974-1979 and the Soap Box Derby is a big event each year.

    North Canton is the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is an entirely different thing.

    • Jeremy says:

      Yes sir, you are very correct. We have been studying the AASBD in preparation for the race, and the World Championship is in Akron. Yes, two very different places. The interview that was done in regards to this article, was where the information was retained, and is a memory of this one individual. In my research for the article, it turned out to be incorrect, and was even brought to the attention of the interview subject. He didn’t win or go on to Ohio mind you, and his memory is of a race when he was a boy, of a memory 30 years old. As a writer, I reported what I was told, according to the subjects memory, against my better judgement to correct it in some way during revision. I don’t know about the ethics of that decision, and am glad it was noticed. I appreciate your keen sense to the details of the article, and thank you for informing the wider internet audience in regards to this important detail of the story.

    • Stephen says:

      Good looking out Jay! We’ve made the changes to reflect the virtues of Akron, home of the Zips and birthplace of LeBron James.

  2. Jeremy says:

    http://www.aasbd.org/about-us/all-american-race.aspx

    Here is a link to this wonderful annual event, held in Akron Ohio

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