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Cool Things - Soap Box Derby Racer

Soap box derby racerTwelve-year-old Russell Dille drove this racing car in a soap box derby competition in Topeka.

The car is 75 inches long and 32 inches wide. It was used in the 1973 contest only, but ran in several elimination heats on race day. Russell finished in sixth place.

As required by national soap box derby rules, Dille built the gravity-powered car himself (with some supervision and help from his father and a family friend). Local sponsors helped participants by paying for materials, which were to total no more than $40 for each car. Chevrolet supplied the wheels, axles, and steering mechanism for Russell's car.

On race day, various companies reviewed the competing cars to select vehicles to sponsor. The Kirby vacuum company originally intended to underwrite only the car made by Russell's brother, James, but eventually was persuaded to sponsor both boy's vehicles. Each brother received $40, reimbursement for the materials used to build the cars. The Kirby dealer had with him just two Kirby stickers, one for each side of the single car his company intended to sponsor. Because Kirby ended up underwriting two cars, each vehicle received one sticker instead of two.

Russell crossing the finish line, 1973

Race participants were bound by a 250-pound limit (combined weight of driver and car), and the winners of the Topeka race weighed in at about 249 pounds. Russell and his car totalled just 171 pounds. One week after the race he had grown so much that he couldn't fit in his car anymore.

The national Soap Box Derby began in 1934. Derby drivers, who must be 11 to 15 years old, design and build their own cars and race them in local competitions. Winners of these races participate in the finals in Akron, Ohio each August.

This soap box derby racer is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History, which also has Russell Dille's racing helmet and photographs of him constructing the car.

Entry: Cool Things - Soap Box Derby Racer

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: May 2001

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.