Derby's Future Clearer, Still Clouded - Tire Review Magazine

Derby’s Future Clearer, Still Clouded

Since I mentioned the serious financial problems that have beset the All-American Soap Box Derby back in December, a lot has changed. And a lot remains the same.

You’ll recall, the All-American was more than $600,000 in debt, and its bank cut off its credit and called in the loan.

In early February a new deal was struck between the All-American, the City of Akron, the Akron Chamber of Commerce and First Merit Bank whereby the city secured the debt, and the bank restructured the loan over 15 years.

The Chamber jumped in to help the All-American work out short- and long-term plans.

"It’s great news. It’s the best news we’ve had in 35 years," a gleeful Bill Evans, chairman of the All-American’s board, told local media.

While everyone was busy saying all of the right things, the board of directors was reconstructed, with new members coming from a local restaurant, the area’s electric company, the local county government, the Akron government, and Goodyear. They joined eight others who remained on the board. Evans remained as board president.

The Derby still lacks a strong national sponsor or sponsors.

Down in Houston, though, a new competitor emerged when that city took the covers off of a new $2.3 million purpose-built and permanent Soap Box Derby track. The new track is currently sanctioned by National Derby Rallies, the chief rival to the All-American Soap Box Derby.

The facility plans to host 14 Soap Box events each year – which they feel can be done for less money than under the All-American program – as well as a number of other youth, resident and senior citizen events annually. All told, the county-owned track plans to be busy 300 days each year.

Houston’s hill is the same length and height as Akron’s Derby Downs. In fact, it’s almost identical to the Akron facility, with grandstands, concession stands and a barn to house derby cars. Unlike its Akron cousin, the Houston facility also includes a community center, children’s playground, walking trails, picnic grounds and horseshoe courts. It may also be home to a performance amphitheater.

Houston organizers are careful to say they are not interested in stealing the All-American or the Soap Box Derby away from Akron. For now.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, actor/director Corbin Bernsen has green-lighted his planned feature on the Soap Box Derby, which he hopes will help the financially troubled youth program.

Bernsen plans to begin filming for his "25 Hill" movie this April, and most of the movie will be shot in Akron. Still, Bernsen is struggling to come up with backing for the movie; he says he has commitments for $500,000 – about half his planned budget.

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