Soap Box Derby zooms to finish

Logan Garner, 12, of Clovis, heads down the race track during Saturday’s Soap Box Derby on Sycamore Street in Clovis. Garner finished the derby in fifth place. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Ryn Gargulinski: CNJ staff writer

Eric Collings said he was not at all surprised when he zoomed away as champion of Clovis’ Soap Box Derby on Saturday.

After all, he said, this was his third year competing in the annual event, sponsored by the Wednesday Rotary Club. And he’d been rambling down the road with ease and confidence in practice rounds.

The 13-year-old said he went undefeated in nearly 20 runs down the homemade hill on Sycamore Street on Saturday.
“It felt weird at first,” Collings said of his continuous wins. “But I could really get used to it.”

Collings said he has no idea how he’ll fare at the All-American finals on July 30 in Akron, Ohio, but he is not going to drive himself crazy preparing for the next round of competition.

“I won’t get to work on my car,” he said, since the vehicles are shipped to Ohio well in advance. He said he’s not intending to read books or manuals on the sport “because it would just make me nervous.”

Shelby Vannatta, 9, didn’t expect to win on Saturday; until a few weeks ago, she didn’t even know she was signed up to compete.

But she held her own against 13 other competitors.
“She loves to drive anything,” said her dad Charlie Vannatta, who signed her up on the sly.

Logan Garner, 12, looked like a natural behind the wheel.

“He’s been riding a motorcycle since the age of 6,” said Dad Tim Garner, who himself raced dirt bikes while growing up on a farm.

Logan’s family was on hand to cheer for him, but some spectators didn’t have a favorite contestant.

Clovis’ Sal Sena said he came to check out the race for two reasons: He’s read about soap box derbies since he was a kid but never seen one; and he wanted to see if it would be good for his 8-year-old granddaughter next year.

“I’ll give her the opportunity I never had,” Sena said.

The trio of David and Ann Morrison and daughter Breann were also on hand with no one particular to root for.

“If it’s a competition, we’ll be there,” said David Morrison, adding they like to watch racing and attend a number of drag racing and sporting events.

Although the derby was much slower than the races they usually attend, Ann Morrison said she appreciated the laid-back fun and relaxation.

Cruising down the homemade hill on Sycamore, contestants go head to head in a series of best-of-three elimination rounds. Cars rely on inertia for speed and winners are often determined by a fraction of a second.

Since timing is so close, the races are monitored by computer, which happened to have a glitch this year and forced a one-hour hiatus.

But the show went on, much to the delight of competitor Derek Stone who was there for his second year in a row.
“I’d feel bad if they canceled the race,” the 11-year-old said. “I haven’t got to beat anyone’s butt yet.”