VALPARAISO — As race director Mike Bottom introduced the Northwest Indiana Soap Box Derby Saturday, he told those in attendance, “We’ve crammed a lot in a small space.”

For several hours Saturday along Lincolnway, children of various ages, sizes and skills took to the street for a chance to compete in the national finals next month in Akron, Ohio.

“We’ve worked a lot over the last nine months to see a smile on a kid’s face,” said Bottom, whose children have competed or assisted in the All-American Soap Box Derby program that dates back to 1934. The Northwest Indiana chapter started six years later.

“It’s all for the kids — that’s why we do it,” Bottom noted.

For Blake Mote, 8, of Kouts, his first race left him feeling excited and nervous. “I’m excited to be driving a car, but nervous about not winning,” Mote said.

Depending on age and body size, the derby is divided into four categories: stock (7-13 years), super stock (9-18), master (10-20) and super kids (7-18), for special-needs youth.

“Some kids are in it to win it, but these kids are just doing it for fun and they’re excited just to be here," said Martha Luke, an adult in charge of super kids contestants.

This year’s race featured two super kids contestants — Garret Kuiper, of Valparaiso, and Noah Biegel, of Hanna. Cindy Biegel, Noah’s mother, said she enjoys “seeing the excitement on the faces of the kids as they’re going down the ramp or those competing for the first time.”

The derby experience, Cindy Biegel added, “has definitely helped with Noah’s social skills and listening to other people.”

Valparaiso American Legion Post 94 hosted the derby, which drew family members and other spectators to the daylong, double-elimination event.

Olivia Biggs, 15, of Jasper, was among several family members competing. Entered in super stock, she has finished first and second in past years.

Is there a secret to winning?

“Not really,” Biggs said. “Just do your best.”

Older sister Zoe Biggs, 17, was hoping for success in masters after earlier wins in stock and super stock. Beyond winning, she noted, “I enjoy just being able to race with my family and coming together as a community. It’s cool, seeing so many people here.”

Alyssa Randall, 13, of Valparaiso, also competed in masters. Besides enjoyment, making race-day friends and just going down the hill, Randall takes this approach for success: “Stay focused and have fun.”

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