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Soapbox derby offers thrills, spills


Jed Devilbiss and Mike Cashman won the Westminster Area Soapbox Derby championships yesterday, but the prize for grit went to Julie Thomas.

The 11-year-old first-time soapbox racer from Westminster coasted past the finish line in one of the afternoon's elimination heats, hit the brake -- and kept right on going.

"It won't work! It won't work!" she shouted as her car plunged into bales of straw set up beyond the finish line in case of brake failures. Julie climbed out, scared but unhurt, and walked back up Bennett Cerf Drive outside Westminster, the race course for the day.

Volunteer mechanics worked on the brake that is supposed to swing down from the racer's underbelly and create drag to bring the car to a halt. They pronounced it fixed. Julie and her pit crew took the car to the starting line. She buckled her helmet, hunched over to reduce wind friction and waited for the flag to come down.

The two cars were close as they crossed the finish line. The other driver hit the brake and stopped. Julie hit the brake and kept going, into the straw bales again.

"It was scary," she said. "It really hurts. Your neck snaps back" when you hit the straw bales. But she said she would go down again if someone could fix her racer's brake.

The cars cover the 200-yard course in an average of 27 or 28 seconds.

Doug Fagley, president and founder of the Westminster area derby, went to work on Julie's racer and managed to get the brake to drop to the ground. Julie got back into the car and won her next heat. Her brakes worked. Julie, who finished third overall in her division, kit cars, said she'll probably be back to race again next year. "It's very exciting and very competitive," she said.

Jed, 12, a Westminster resident in his second year of racing, won the kit car division in a racer he inherited from his brother Ryan, now 14, who outgrew the car. The kit car division is for advanced racers. Entrants build their own cars from pieces available in a mail-order kit.

Second place in kit cars went to Bradley Cage, 11, of Mount Airy.

Mike, 11, of Westminster won the stock car division. Stock cars come in a complete kit, pre-drilled and ready to be bolted together.

"For anyone coming into soapbox racing, that's where you start," Mr. Bagley said.

Second place went to John Hesson, 9, of Frizzellburg; third place to Matthew Carter, 11, of Westminster.

The two winners will travel to Akron, Ohio, the first week in August for a week of camping and racing against other 9- to 16-year-old derby entrants from across the United States and from other nations.

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