The Soap Box Derby

The Soap Box Derby, a peculiarly American institution, thrives on the U.S. teenage passion for anything that has four wheels and goes fast-even if driven by gravity.

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Danielle agrees with DeLuca that steering and knowing the course are what matter most. "It looks easy," she says, "but one bad move at the wheel can lose a race. A lot of kids will end up hitting bumps and wandering off-line."

She drove "sit-up," but the term is misleading. In a race, her father explains, "her helmet and eyes barely peep over the cockpit." To be able to do that, she did daily bending exercises from October to August so she could practically put her head between her knees to cut down on drag. "There are bumps and grooves on the track," Danielle says. "The wheel is hard to hold just right, and drivers who hit a bump and jerk the wheel are in trouble. One bad move can mean the race."

It took her four years to learn to drive well. "At first I held onto the wheel so tight that I got calluses on my hands. What I learned was, you had to hold just hard enough to take a bump and not move from a straight line."

Danielle's final run, which won the Masters Championship, took 28.81 breathless seconds. She crossed the finish line doing 32 mph. What did it feel like? "It's really amazing," she says. "You get tears in your eyes from the speed."


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