It’s all downhill from here: Speed thrills drivers at annual soap box derby

Two years ago, sisters Aralyn and Jaidah Battice were walking with their family in downtown Seymour and literally ran right into the D.A.R.E. Soap Box Derby.

They had never heard of the event before and decided to hang around and watch.

“It looked like fun,” said Aralyn, 10, a student at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School.

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Before long, the girls were putting on helmets and racing down West Second Street in front of the American Legion, driving homemade cars powered by gravity.

On Sunday afternoon, the Battices once again showed up to race in the 10th annual running of the derby.

“I love speed,” Aralyn said. “You go real fast, and it’s exciting.”

And it didn’t matter whether she won or lost, she added.

“It’s just fun,” she said.

Although there weren’t a lot of entries or spectators lining the sides of the street this year, those who did attend said they had a blast and can’t wait for next year’s race.

Organized and sponsored by the Seymour Police Department, the derby was started in 2007 as a fundraiser for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

But over the years, declining numbers have made the race more about family fun and positive community interaction with police than raising money. Several officers and high school D.A.R.E. role models showed up on their day off to watch and cheer on the younger kids.

Several cars have even been made and donated to D.A.R.E., giving anyone the opportunity to get involved, even if they are unable to make their own car.

D.A.R.E. officer Gilbert Carpenter served as Sunday’s announcer, while fellow D.A.R.E. instructor Tim Toborg took to the wheel of his stuffed animal-covered car to race his boss, Chief Bill Abbott.

“This is a grudge match between crazy and sane,” Carpenter said, referencing the matchup.

Looking laid-back and relaxed in his car, Abbott edged out Toborg for the win.

Abbott also got to race against his grandson, 8-year-old Blayke Chase. Together, they made Chase’s patriotic car, which is painted to look like the American flag.

“I love racing in the derby,” Blayke said. “It’s always fun.”

Blayke’s mother, Heather Chase, served as race judge determining who won each heat.

“He just loves everything about this,” Chase said of her son. “He gets so exited when it’s time for the derby.”

Carpenter said they will continue to have the event as long as there are kids who want to race and adults who want to help.

“It’s a beautiful day, and everyone is having a good time, and that’s what it’s all about,” Carpenter said.

Shawn Rockey said getting to build a soap box car three years ago with his sons, Sam, 10 and Charlie, 8, both students at Emerson Elementary School, was a great bonding experience.

It’s also a way for them to support the D.A.R.E. program, he said.

The Seymour D.A.R.E. program was initiated in 1999 by J.B. Hamblin, who was police chief at the time. Officer Billy Smith, now retired, served as the first D.A.R.E. instructor.

Toborg and Carpenter visit about 20 classrooms at all public and parochial schools in the city during the year.

Each year, more than 400 fifth-graders participate in D.A.R.E.

The basics of the course are designed to teach not only drug awareness, but give children the skills they will need to make better decisions when faced with a choice involving drugs, alcohol, tobacco or bullying.

D.A.R.E. is operated solely through donations from local businesses, organizations and individuals.

Although he’s an engineer at Cummins, Rockey said he likes for his sons to help him design and build the car so they learn the process and can take pride in their work.

“We modify it each year to make it better,” Rockey said. “The first year, we used lawn mower wheels, and that didn’t work very well. The second year, we tried bicycle wheels, and this year, we tried the wheels off a jogging stroller, and we’re doing better.”

The car is made completely of recycled materials, including wood and sheet metal that was going to be thrown away, Rockey said.

“We painted it and added blue racing stripes this morning,” he said. “I do the welding but let them watch how it’s done.”

Sam Rockey said he enjoys spending time with his dad.

“I think our car looks really good, but it was hard to steer today for some reason,” Sam said. “We’ll just have to work on it again for next year.”

Shawn Mahoney and his family also are regulars at the soap box derby. His son, William, 11, took over as driver of their No. 30 car because his sister, Liberty, 15, outgrew it.

Also attending with the Mahoneys were Sophia Miller, 7, and her brother, Ansel Miller, 9, from Speedway. The Ansels are William and Liberty’s cousins.

“They came down one time to watch a couple of years ago, and they wanted to come back again this year to race,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney said he would like to see more people get involved with the event.

“It’s a great way to spend time together as a family,” he said. “We really appreciate the officers and the D.A.R.E. program. They make the kids feel special, and they are real assets to this community.”