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Flushing Meadow Soap Box Derby rolls into 25th year

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Things really started to go downhill in East Elmhurst Saturday morning and residents could not have been happier.

The 25th annual Flushing Meadow Soap Box Derby took over 23rd Avenue at 94th Street as 40 kids from Queens, the other boroughs and Long Island competed to be one of the lucky six to go on to the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, July 25.

The sidewalks along the road were strewn with half-assembled cars and frantic adult mechanics helping the racers get ready for heat after heat of downhill sprints.

“The best part is working with the kids,” said derby organizer Lelia Dease, who has volunteered for the program since its inaugural season. “We have workshops going on from March until today. As a matter of fact, we have workshops going on right now.”

The cars, which can reach speeds up to 30 mph, are assembled by the children and their parents in the weeks leading up to the race. Most competitors use the fiberglass car bodies and components owned by the soap box derby group, although a few buy and build kits of their own.

Those fortunate enough to get to the national championships, like East Elmhurst resident Zachery Lynch, 11, are eager to return.

“It was exciting just to be there,” he said.

“They treated him like a champ the whole time he was there,” said Zachery’s mother, Andreii.

Some children have been to Akron multiple times, like Fresh Meadows resident Austin Wong, 14, who hopes this year marks his fifth excursion to Ohio.

“They treat you like kings and queens,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

Wong, who competed with a top-tier, home-built master class car, had some advice for newcomers as well.

“Don’t be scared and just try, because once you’re down the hill and moving, it’s great,” he said.

Not everyone was destined for Akron, however. The first race of the day ended in some tense moments after Corona resident Corrine Warner, 8, rocketed down the hill in her pink racer and crashed into the rear of a parked car that had not been removed from the track yet.

Corrine, who was fine after being extracted from her car, responded with an adamant “no” when asked if she would race again, but was spotted later that day driving her car in the time trials.

With “I am lightning” emblazoned along the cowl of her racer, Flushing resident Stephanie Rodriguez, 10, was one who hungered for a chance at Akron. Last year she won several races in East Elmhurst but did not qualify for the nationals because she was a year too young. She said the trick to racing is to “push my whole body and concentrate and keep straight and just have fun.”

Jada Brooks, 13, of Corona, said the spirit of competition can result in a little trash-talking from time to time.

“Last year they were like, ‘I’m gonna beat you,’” she said. But she admitted she brings much the same mindset to the track.

“When I’m going downhill, I’m thinking about winning,” she said.

Jada’s mother, Jackie, said the process can be rewarding for parents, too.

“It’s a lot of fun, actually. You actually get to do this with your child. It’s one-on-one.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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