We Know It’s Only Soapbox Derby But We Like It

RACE TO THE BOTTOM: Redbull Soapbox Derby, Manayunk, Yesterday

BY TIFFANY YOON It’s raining outside, no wait, it’s pouring, no wait, now the streets of Manayunk are flooding like we’re gonna need an ark.  Somehow, this doesn’t stop hundreds of derby fans from coming out to watch Red Bull’s annual Soapbox Derby in Manayunk where man-powered Soapboxcars crash-but-don’t-burn or bob and weave between hay piles whilst careening down the The Wall.  Most steep hills have at least a 10% grade, whereas The Wall has a 17% grade  — and 500 meters of it. Red Bull hosts these Soap Box races throughout the country, and according to company reps Manayunk’s Wall is the steepest they have encountered. Add rain and beer and you begin to get the picture.

The fans are die-hard loyal, enduring heavy and unrelenting rain, slick mud-covered hills and very crowded circumstances.  Thankfully, the derby track is long enough that everyone can spread out to see.  Families living on Lyceum Ave. — site of the race — had a bird’s eye view from their rooftops and front porches, and others dragged couches close to the edge of the track.  Despite the miserable weather outside everyone is in good spirits, boozing all day, playing in the rain and watching 36 cars race down the hill in pursuit of victory.  Cars are judged on their speed, creativity and showmanship, so it’s not just about making it to the bottom the fastest, but that DOES help.

The cars were elaborately, often outrageously decorated — often as tributes with Philadelphia themes,  for example, team Ride The Lightning were all dressed as Benjamin Franklins (with the lightning bolt commemorating ye old kite and key experiment), and team Cheesesteak Chariot’s heap was, well, a giant cheesesteak.  Others were made in honor of favorite films or bands, like team Great Scott! (Back to the Future) or team Yellow Submaracers (The Beatles).  In the end, Team Deuces Wild, with their driver dressed as a Michael Jackson look-alike, took first place in the winner’s circle, while The Wizz Kids, paying homage to Albert Einstein and nerds all over Philadelphia, took home the People’s Choice Award.

[Photos by TIFFANY YOON]

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