By Julia Lull
July 1, 2016

On a bright and sunny day last month, 30 kids from the five boroughs of New York City gathered in Central Park to race their Soap Box Derby cars—gravity-powered vehicles they had built themselves. The winners would receive local bragging rights, a trophy, and a trip to Akron, Ohio to compete in the World Championships July 10 to 16.

Although the Soap Box Derby has been around since 1934, this was the first race in New York City. Tourists strolling through Central Park on June 19 may have been taken by surprise to see a slice of small-town America in the middle of a bustling city, but the president and CEO of the International Soap Box Derby, Joe Mazur, was glad to be there. “This is an incredible market,” he said. “We should have been in here a long time ago.”

Bringing the derby to the big city required work from donors and volunteers across the country who purchased the kits and helped the kids assemble their cars. In the months leading up to the race, elementary and middle schoolers from community groups and after-school programs got together to study a STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering and math) and apply it, hands-on, by assembling their cars.

According to Mark Scuderi, Regional Soap Box Derby director for New York State, “This isn’t about just two cars rolling down the hill after each other. This is about developing children to the best that they can be.”

Write to Julia Lull at julia.lull@timeinc.com.

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