Some families pass down a business. Others pass down recipes or heirlooms. One Region family seems to inherit a knack for soap box derby racing.
Crown Point 8-year-old Lily Petty qualified for the upcoming All American Soap Box Derby World Championships held July 14-20 in Akron, Ohio. The Solon Robinson elementary school second-grader will be the third generation of her family to excel in the sport, following in the footsteps of her aunt Kimberly Collins and her great uncle Dean Christakis.
“They help me with Akron and tips and stuff, like keep the wheel straight when I’m driving because sometimes I just don’t keep it straight,” she said.
Collins (then Kimberly Pero) made it to Akron in both 1989 and 1991. Christakis never made the world championships, but he raced locally in the 1960s. He learned the sport through Chevrolet-sponsored clinics at Gary dealerships. He helped Lily learn to steer and brake on her driveway and on local hills.
“The skill of the driver is huge,” Christakis said. “I think you become a better driver as the years go on. Lily gets better every day because her confidence builds.”
To qualify, Lily won the Northwest Indiana Soap Box Derby stock division race June 22 on Lincolnway in Valparaiso. She also raced in other events, including one in Iowa that had her nervous on the drive west.
“I was crying. I was scared of the track,” Lily said. “Even when I went down the track it was a little scary.”
She admits she’s a touch fearful of the track in Akron, as well.
Lily’s parents, Robert and Kelly Petty, took her to a local race where she could borrow a car and see if she caught the family bug. She’s raced in about a half dozen events since.
“The moment she got in the car, that was it. She was hooked and it began,” Robert Petty said. “She enjoyed it right away.”
The stock division is for drivers aged seven to 13 racing basic-style cars built from ready-to-assemble kits. Christakis said the game is in the modifications made to the alignment and weight placement.
“You have to view that floorboard as a surgeon, a scientist and an artist,” Christakis said. “It’s not a weekend project. It’s a long-term project that is going to require attention to detail.”
Father, daughter and great uncle built the car together, which required Lily to sit for long periods of time to ensure a tight fit that Christakis said is key to the all-important aerodynamics.
“It also comes down to the driver making slow, calculated movements instead of jerky movements which can cost you time,” Robert Petty said. “It’s about discipline, about holding your head down low and your back against the car as tight as you can. When she started out, she wanted to steer the car and hold her head up high like in a go cart, but as the season progressed she found her way.”
World champions earn a $3,000 scholarship which the University of Akron college of engineering will match if they attend the school and major in engineering.
“The goal is to win the world finals. I’ve seen people on the list from Canada, Japan, France,” Robert Petty said. “We want to be as competitive as we can. We feel the car is extremely competitive. The drive is nervous but focused. We’ll continue to pep talk her and give her all the things we need to. Obviously, the goal is to win and continue this on as a family tradition.”
That tradition expands further next year. Lily’s brother Landon turns 7 on January 1 and will hop into his first soap box car in February.