After lighting test, Soap Box Derby plans to offer northeast Ohio track for after-dark events


AKRON, Ohio (AP) — The northeast Ohio home of the annual All-American Soap Box Derby will host some after-dark events starting next spring as organizers try to bring in revenue and make more use of the venue.

Soap Box Derby officials tested portable light towers at the historic Derby Downs track in Akron this week, and International Soap Box Derby President Joe Mazur deemed it a success.

Renting such lights as needed will enable nighttime rentals by other groups and benefit the main summertime event, Mazur told the Akron Beacon Journal. He said the growing slate of races in recent years had pushed the limits on how many events could be accommodated before racers ran out of daylight.

“We’re almost maxed out on what we can do,” he said. “With lights up, we could go later.”

Sixteen-year-old Megan Gongaware of Perry Township, the 2010 world stock champ and a participant in the light testing, recalled occasions where night fell and racers flipped coins to see who would finish their heats. And she noted another benefit of the lights, from a young racer’s perspective: “It’s just really cool.”

The derby has struggled financially in the past, and the plan for after-dark events builds on its efforts to bring in more cash by opening the facility for use beyond the main week of racing in July.

More than 440 racers competed in the 76th running of the event this past summer Racers came from several countries around the world, including the Canada, Japan and New Zealand.

The derby started in Dayton and moved to Akron one year later, with the downhill race of gravity-powered cars held annually except during World War II.

This year, Derby Downs hosted about 70 events. For about $1,000 an hour, companies and organizations could rent the venue for fundraisers, picnics and other activities.

Events have included a youth leadership group meeting, a fundraising foot race, and summer camps for youngsters to build derby race cars.

Renting lights is expected to add about $1,200 to the renters’ costs for such events, the newspaper said.