When HomeLife Academy senior Caroline Alexander was not working diligently to complete her senior work for her recent high school graduation in June 2015, you would have probably found her down at the track racing in her Soap Box Derby car.
Caroline got behind the wheel of a Derby car in her first race at the age of 13 where she placed third in the Stock Division. On Saturday, July 25, Caroline will represent the City of Athens, Tennessee at the 78th Annual All-American Soapbox Derby World Championship Race (AASBD) that will be held in Akron, Ohio. She earned that opportunity after coming in first place in the Super Stock Division at the City of Athens 21st Annual Race that was held May 30.
“This will be my first time representing Athens in the World Championship and I’m super excited,” said Caroline, who only started competing four years ago. “My younger brother, Jacob, tried racing one year and I thought it was cool, so I did it the following year. This year was my favorite in Athens, because I got to race against my sister Ellie. I am the oldest of nine children (Jacob, Emily, Ellie, Henry, Nicholas, Mary Frances and Charles). Six of them are homeschooled and compete. The younger two will be homeschooled and may eventually become interested in racing too.”
Caroline refers to Soap Box Derby racing as “the greatest amateur racing event in the world”.
“Soap Box Derby racing is different from other car racing, because it is completely gravity driven. Each division has a weight limit of car and driver combined. My division, Super Stock, has a combined weight of 240 pounds,” said Caroline who shared some trivia. “The Derby Downs track where I will race in Akron was originally a 1,150-foot hill. After improved car designs led to breakneck speeds and hospital visits, it was shortened. Today, it is 989.4 feet.”
With any sport, there are dangers, and accidents do happen, but the Soap Box Derby organization has put safety precautions in place to protect the drivers.
“The drivers wear helmets and receive instruction on proper driving techniques. Generally, it is a fairly safe sport and I encourage others to learn more and try it out,” said Caroline, who is one of the many females that race. “The sport is pretty balanced (men and women), although more females have gone to Akron to represent the City of Athens. Interestingly enough, the first Soap Box Derby race was in 1934, but girls did not compete until 1971.”
When she is out on the track, Caroline just wants to be a good role model for the younger girls and boys that compete.
Since her win in Athens, Caroline has been preparing for her debut in Akron.
“I made a few hundred badges to swap with other drivers and worked to raise some funds to help cover my extra expenses. As for driving, I will have the opportunity to do some practice runs in Akron. I am excited about the opportunity to race and meet people from all over the world,” said Caroline, who will drive a car she built herself.Racing has given her a chance to meet a number of people including writer and director Corbin Bernsen, who was in Athens three years ago promoting 25 Hill, which is a movie about Soap Box Derby racing.
“The movie was produced to save the history and tradition of Soap Box Derby racing. My siblings and I raised money to donate to the cause and to save the track in Akron. I even had the opportunity of racing Mr. Bernsen down the hill in Athens,” said Caroline. I am very thankful he had the vision to help save Soap Box Derby, so the 78th Annual World Championship race can go on!”
Over the years she has competed, Caroline has learned a lot from the sport, sharing she has been able to learn science, technology, engineering and math through her experience with Derby racing or “gravity racing.”
“I like winning and Derby racing has allowed me to be a winner, as well as enhance good sportsmanship skills,” said Caroline. “I’ve also learned to stay down and drive straight!”Since Caroline is 18, this will be her last year of competition unless she decides to move up into the Masters Division where racers may compete until they are 20 years old. Before she makes a decision about changing divisions or retiring, Caroline has some goals she hopes to accomplish in Akron.
“I would like to set some sort of new record, like being the first girl from Athens to place in the top five in the world, which would be a good start. It’s special to me, because it is most likely the one opportunity I’ll have to race at Derby Downs and I get to represent Athens and experience the “thrill of the hill”. I will just say an extra prayer on race day and we’ll see what happens.”Look for car number 313, which is a Coca-Cola sponsored Derby car, sporting a number that has a significant connection to Caroline; March 13 is her birthdate.
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