Bridgeport Soap Box Derby

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Imagine racing down Boston Avenue in a home made, four wheeled, handmade miniature racing car!  Bridgeport’s Soap Box Derby was run on July 25, 1936 over a course that was 1,050 feet long.  The course ran along Boston Avenue between North Summerfield Avenue and Success Avenue.

Cochrane Cheverolet Company cosponsored the race with Post Publishing Company.  The Bridgeport Police Department helped to regulate the race, re-routing traffic so that the Boston Avenue hill was a smooth, four lane course.

Entrants in the race had to be between the ages of 9 and 15 years old.  The local champion would compete in the All American finals in Akron, Ohio in August of 1936.  No car that was entered in the race could exceed 75 inches in length over all.  All racers must have had rubber tired wheels, with a maximum diameter of 15 inches.

The entire car had to be hand built, however the cost of making the car had to be under $10.00!  Some of the rules set up in making the cars were as follows:  wheels could be home-made, second-hand or newly purchased in stores that specialized in Derby wheels; overall height of the car may not exceed 30 inches.  Brakes were mandatory on each car…the “drag” type of break was the simplest for the soap box racer.  By pressing down on the brake rod with the foot, the brake pad at the end of the rod drags on the ground and stops the car.

Special awards were given for best racing design and the most “unique” entrant.  Mayor Jasper McLevy was the Honorary chairman of the event and the race director was W. Ben Aurandt.

150 boys entered the race. 15,000 spectators lined up and down Boston Avenue to watch the race.  It was 13 year old Richard Moore who won the City Championship.  Richard told reporters that it took him six weeks to build his red racing machine, and it cost $3.84 cents to assemble the car!

Three of the young drivers were injured, receiving lacerations on their legs, and were rushed to nearby Bridgeport hospital.

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About Author

Mary K. Witkowski is the former Bridgeport City Historian and the Department Head of the Bridgeport History Center, Emeritus. She is the author of Bridgeport at Work, and the co-author with Bruce Williams of Bridgeport on the Sound. Mary has had a newspaper column in the Bridgeport News, a blog for the Connecticut Post, and a weekly spot on WICC. She continues to be involved in many community based activities and initiatives on local history and historic preservation.

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