The Welton Soap Box Derby
When I was a youngster in the late 60s, all the local kids had a go cart or trolley, made by themselves or their dads. they were made from old bits of wood fixed to pram wheels and were steered with a bit of rope. We made them from old wooden fruit boxes, planks of wood and used to decorate the cross bar, by nailing coloured bottle tops to it.
Some of my friends managed to find some big wheels for the back and smaller ones for the front, they looked cool but the handling suffered! I never had any serious crashes but lots gravel rash after overturning. They went very fast and I acquired many cuts and bruises. I still have some scars on my left knee, over fifty years later! Sometimes we would run into the curb, causing the front wheels to come away from the wood and the trolley falling apart, resulting in a long walk back to our house for a major repair.
Soap Box Cars are homemade vehicles that use only gravity to move – no engine. A Soap Box Car can be made with plywood and bicycle wheels, or get ambitious – with fiberglass frames and ball bearing hubs. A steering system and good brakes are also important features!
Times have changed!
The fourth consecutive Welton Soap Box Derby, the first was early in the millennium, continues to thrive with attendances breaking all previous records and the event growing to include a shopping village on the village school playing field. Over 2,500 people lined High Street and Churchill Road to watch brave and courageous carters get behind the wheels of forty-six creative and innovative machines charging past them down the steep slopes and bends of the village to a finish line near The Paddock.
“I am healthy, my family is healthy. That is the important thing. After that we go racing.”
A new highest speed record was set with one soapbox hitting an incredible 36mph through the speed trap, 4mph quicker than the previous record set in 2016 by the same Isle of Wight based Team Streamline with what was then an unprecedented 32mph by category winner Take III. This year a record total of 46 teams participated with a final record total of 111 runs completed.
The hugely successful event began life in 2001 when several people in the small Northamptonshire village of Welton decided to celebrate the new millennium by organising a soap box derby as part of their festivities. It was such an enormous success that eleven years later several of the communities six hundred villagers decided it would be a great boost to the villages annual village fete if it was to return and a second Derby was born.
A spectacular array of homemade soapbox carts speed down the 500-metre course reaching speeds of up to 36mph, all from a push start! I once tried to drive my car down the route at 36mph but very quickly realised it was not such a good idea! Both experienced and amateur racers had been designing and preparing their carts over the last twelve months and competition for the prizes is as great as ever.
Racers start outside the White Horse pub with a push start for the whole length of the pub – from gable to gable then gravity takes over. The course runs downhill along the High Street then there is a tight right bend near the church. At the bottom of the hill there is another hazardous, sharp left-hander, `Kettles Corner` before the finish line near The Paddock.
It is of course a downhill race where competitors race against the clock, not each other, but there are also points awarded for creativity and originality in the design of the cart.
“If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.”
This year there was lots of additional entertainment provided including large bouncy castles, slides and face painting for the kids and classic summer fair activities for all ages as well as the new `shopping village` consisting of over thirty businesses on the school playing fields. The entertainment continued late into the night with live music at The White Horse pub with excellent local bands `So 77, Palace Pictures and Original Members providing the tunes to a large appreciative audience. The village pub was open all day providing much needed refreshment, food, drink and music to the many visitors.
The organisation of the event is superb. Local villagers support the event in many ways; some villagers have the inconvenience of having their roads and drives blocked for much of the day and the main street closed but they either sit out on their lawns and watch the carts or join in the day by visiting the stalls or volunteer their time and services to support their community event.
Chair of the Soapbox Committee Chris Barlow remembers it well, ` I heard the first soapbox was in the early millennium but there was a long break until I picked up the mantle probably after a few too many real ales in The White Horse! I still cannot believe we are on our way towards completing my fifth Welton Soapbox Derby. It doesn’t seem two minutes, since I was sat in the pub talking with the guys at the bar about the original event that took place back in 2001, and putting my hand in the air to say; ‘Go on then, I`ll do it!’ Now five years later we are looking so well established. We start planning the next one a few weeks after the last one finishes!
In 2015 organisers recruited former Northampton Saints and 2003 England Rugby World Cup winner Ben Cohen along to open Welton`s third Soap Box Derby to ever increasing crowds. This year`s event, the fifth saw attendance records broken as huge numbers of spectators lined the course route down throughout the village. It has been estimated that 2,500 people attended the Soapbox in 2017, breaking the previous years` record of around 2000.
The carts competing this year were both traditional and outrageous with a high level of ingenuity and creative expression. Each of the hand-made machines were powered by nothing else but courage, bravery and the force of gravity. My favourite was`, The White Horse – The Grand Tour` which was a replica of the village pub, complete with thatched roof, punters at the bar with beers; a blow-up landlady, hanging baskets and toy dogs. Genius! Other creative carts included HMS Tempest, a submarine and Wookie-Leaks, an X-Fighter from Star Wars.
The White Horse` pub also supports the event by covering some costs to the charity funds. One of the other objectives is to support the local pub. I recently wrote a report about the fact that thirty rural pubs continue to close each week and this event helps support the village/ community pub, during these difficult times. I spoke to landlady Margaret Elcock who repeated how important the Soap Box is for both village and the wider local community.
The Soap Box is a massive event for both the village and local community. A huge amount of work is done by a large number of people to make the event so successful. The White Horse benefits enormously from the event bringing both regulars, new and past customers into the pub to enjoy a drink, eat some food and listen to live music in comfortable surroundings. An event like this reminds many that the village pub is still very much at the heart of the village community
Margaret Elcock – Landlady – The White Horse – Welton
If you missed the Welton Soap Box Derby this year do not worry because the `organising committee` have set the date for next years` event which has been confirmed as Saturday June 30th, 2018.
I managed to grab a few words with Race supremo Chris Barlow and asked him whether this was the best Soap Box yet!
The event itself has grown incredibly year on year; not only with the increased number of teams, and Soapbox dream machines; but also, the spectator footfall, and the service offering. The feedback we are getting from those that have been with us every year, has been fantastic! Every year we are learning. We ensure we apply, and improve the systems and processes, the service provision, infrastructure and safety of the event – to make it a really great day out for everyone!
Is this as big as it can get?
I think we now know the max number of teams we can take. This is between 45-50! This year was a record, at 46 teams, and we delivered 111 runs. We still have scope to build out our service offerings linked to the food court and the shopping village. But we must always aim to provide multiple runs for the teams on the day. There are no guarantees; as weather plays a big part in how quick we can turn around each run. We had a lot of crashes this year, with the morning rain making the race track treacherous. One after another were losing control at the infamous ‘Kettles Corner’!!!
Are you still enjoying it or has it become a monster?
The build up to Race day, the team and spectator banter is amazing. Race Day itself is an epic day of hard graft and commitment! Is it a Monster? Not quite; but it is certainly going in that direction. Deep down; I absolutely love this – it is a big passion of mine; to see and hear communities of people coming together so far in advance to design and build their carts, is such a buzz!
Which charities were you supporting this year? How will they benefit?
We are an independent non-profit event which has already distributed hundreds of pounds to local charitable organisations over the last four years. This year we were supporting ‘The Pete Spencer Helping Hands Memorial Fund‘ and Macmillan Cancer support, specific to the Northampton Ward. We are still consolidating income streams; however, we are planning to make donations to their charities directly!
The village hall car park and its grounds look fantastic. A Soap Box success for the village that everyone can see and use? Comment on that and what`s the next village project?
I think it’s great that investment has gone into the grounds of the village hall and the Car Park. It would be fantastic to see an internal refurbishment of the hall and facilities, to offer consistency from outside to in.
Was the inaugural shopping village a success this year?
The integration of the shopping village, is new to this year. We have had a great response with circa 30x businesses, and feedback from them and the spectators on the day has been positive. Offering that broader element for people to enjoy on the day has seen real positivity. We have also this year, partnered with Event Buddy (UK) Ltd, who manage the build of our supply base directly.
Who broke the new Fastest Speed record?
We have a New Fastest speed through our speed trap. This was 36Mph achieved by Team Streamline from The Isle of Wight! It was 4mph quicker than last year. I had a chat with them on race day, they literally travelled from 5am Saturday morning to Welton, and travelled back that day! Amazing!
What was the Most Creative soap box?
The creativity this year was immense! I increased from 1 medal to 3 this year for the winners – as the number of amazing carts was just too much to pick just one! However, in 3rd place we had HMS Tempest, a submarine! In 2nd place we had Wookie-Leaks, which was an X-Fighter from Star Wars. The detail on this was incredible. But in 1st place, and a clear winner by far from everyone, was The White Horse – The Grand Tour. This was a replica of the White Horse pub in the village with a thatched roof, 2 blokes at the bar with beers; a blow-up barmaid, and even 2 hanging baskets and a pub (toy) dog. We did have to stop racing temporarily when the driver, Mr Barry ‘The Cat’ Hickman shed a hanging basket on the bend. Clearing the compost and geraniums took a couple of minutes, and then we were back up and running!
The friendship, comradeship and good will between competitors appears to be brilliant, with carters helping each other out at the event.
All the carts and competitors are amazing. The camaraderie between the teams is immense. Our racing line up is now at a National level. We are literally drawing teams from all over the UK. On Race day, these guys are like best mates; helping and supporting each other, sharing stories and advice, it is truly a sight to behold!
The success of an event like this relies to an enormous degree of support from volunteers, local business and village residents.
What can I say about my team! Incredible dedication and commitment! We have a small Operations committee that meet pretty much all year round monthly and on Race Day itself we have a huge volunteering support that converge to help deliver this ‘beast’ of an event! We have forty-six dedicated volunteers providing various essential roles and levels of support – the soapbox derby would not take place without them. Most of the volunteers live in the village but we get plenty of support from outside too. We have gained fantastic financial and supplier support for materials over the last three years.
In 2014, we had 100 crowd barriers stretched along the road with miles of interconnecting barrier tape! This year we had 450 barriers providing an all connected solid infrastructure to help keep racers and spectators safer! Huge support from many, many people and organisations. Every single individual and role that they play is intrinsic to the successful delivery of this event – without them we would not be able to do this! It is something I am truly proud of. We also appreciate cooperation and support of the Welton Villagers themselves. Allowing the event to go ahead; means closing the roads, and restricting access for the day – it’s a huge thank you to our residents!
And on to this year!
This year we are going for Saturday 29th June 2019! We will be back bigger and better again! GO-GO-GO!!!!
The Travel Locker would like to thank Chris for taking the time to answer my questions and would like to wish him and the Soap Box Derby Committee all the best in the coming years events.
Derby History: 2001/2014/2015/2016/2017/2018/2019
For an official application form for this years Welton Soap Box Derby Email Soapbox HQ at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: Welton Soap Box Derby
Credit: Photographs were taken courtesy of Welton Soap Box Derby Facebook page
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