When the first All-American Soapbox Derby race was held in Macon in spring 1936, no one would have anticipated the passion and love this community would come to show for derby racing.
Versions of a derby event have captivated the attention of Maconites since its inception. For a few years after WWII, families lined Emery Highway to root for racers seeking glory.
For a decade starting in the mid-1980s, local civic leaders and volunteers (including a local racing legend) revived the derby — holding races on Eisenhower Parkway. And finally, the current iteration of the race (thanks to a rag-tag group of volunteers) has been entertaining spectators since 2009 with a dynamic race-day program on the steep hill of Magnolia Street next to beautiful Washington Park.
This year #soapboxsaturday returns at its regularly scheduled date, April 8 — always on the second Saturday in April. Each year, this event occurs because people in this community give. They give of their time, they give money, they support us with in-kind contributions to ensure that the race will go on year after year.
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We are also proud to have grown as a grassroots organization with the support of various grant opportunities through the generosity of both the Knight Foundation and the Community Foundation of Central Georgia. Without support from them and dozens of other sponsors, we would not have been able to expand the race-day events to include new races or cover the operating costs of an event that draws more than 4,500 spectators to the intimate park and neighborhood.
Our sponsors believe in the value and impact of our event, and we believe that this event is a manifestation of the commitment of the community to create and engage in the progressive, the innovative and the spectacular.
During what we consider Macon’s best action event, we celebrate feats of speed, science, creativity and community and are excited to announce an exciting next step for our organization — giving back ourselves.
In partnership with SparkMacon, we are capitalizing on the momentum of the national “makers-movement” and building on the legacy of the Magnolia Soapbox Derby by announcing our first internal grant program.
Beginning this week, interested parties can visit our website at magnoliaderby.com and get all the details about new team build grants and returning team upgrade grants. Applicants will be asked to share a photo or video of their team and proclaim why their team is amazing and why they love the Magnolia Soap Box Derby.
The deadline for submissions is Feb. 10, with winners announced on Valentine’s Day — leaving plenty of time to build before April 8. We are excited about continuing the tradition of providing a venue for community competition, where the backyard tinkerer, the professional engineer and the inspired high school student compete for bragging rights, glory and swag as they race down Magnolia Street in all kinds of crazy custom race cars.
So take a second, visit the site to apply, then mark your calendar — all day April 8 — to be part of the action in Washington Park.
Chris Tsavatewa is the director of experiential learning at Middle Georgia State University, and an overly engaged citizen who’s volunteering gets in the way of his volunteering. Follow him on twitter @chiefchippy.