Michaela Merz

Soapbox derby

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With my youngest we went to see the soapbox derby in Unterägeri.

Everything that was needed for a good atmosphere was present at the racetracks. There was Barbecue with ‘Cervelat’ and ‘Bratwurst’. Drinks to keep us hydrated an ice cream van and many spectators. Thank god for the fact that it didn’t rain even though the sky was rather cloudy. The little race drivers gave their all. We sat down at the ‘Jogurtkurve’ where you could,  depending on how well you raced around the curve, gain or lose two seconds, which then contributed to the point scoring at the end of the game.

Some of the race cars drove comfortably and leisurely past us, from the beginning there was no doubt that their aim wasn’t to win but simply to participate. The competition for the ‘Gold’ was fought without mercy.. some of the racers sped around the curve, cutting tightly into the bend to achieve the maximum possible speed. The light blue racing car cut the curb so tightly that it, at some points, only drove on two wheels. We were astounded by the morale and by the people who had built the racing cars. Each of the cars was unique and had probably been created, through many long hours of hard work. There were no limits to the design of the soapbox cars, the only requirement for them was to have a wheel and brakes.

This reminded me of my own soapbox. At the age of about ten, the boys from our neighbourhood built soapbox cars. The ones they had back then weren’t nearly as beautiful and well thought out as the ones we observed with my youngest child today. However, they were fast and raced along the path down the mountain into the village with great speed. At the time I was jealous and also wanted one. This was mainly due to the fact, that the boys were not willing to let me try their car for a test ride.

I can do many things but my DIY skills are rather limited and unfortunately I have never had a great interest in physics (respectively, none of my physics teachers was able to incite an interest in physics in me.) I pondered what I could do to resolve this. Lo and behold, on our attic I found an old buggy and took it apart to gain access to the axis and wheels. Of course, wheels alone aren’t enough. Par hazard I also found boards and an old bicycle seat, which I figured I could mould into a carriage. Without the help from the neighbour kids I barely managed to combine the axis with the carriage. My racing car did not have brakes as I didn’t know how to create them. I tried steering it with my feet. The first trial run ended in the bush near our street. I didn’t give up however and after many long hours of practice I improved my steering technique. The training and all the collisions with the bushes that paved both sides of the street took its toll and I ended up with numerous abrasions, scratches and bruises.

Despite all this, I continued training. After two weeks of studious practicing, I managed to drive down the mountain without landing in a bush. That was quite a big achievement considering that there were no brakes. I was immensely proud of myself and dared challenging the boys to a race. They agreed and grabbed the opportunity to make fun of my racing car. In the afternoon of the soapbox derby I decided to put in an additional training session in order to increase my chance of winning.

The first spin was fast and in the very last second when I wasn’t paying enough attention I ended up in a bunch of nettles. Thankfully the crash got halted by a rose hip bush. I dragged the car back up the mountain and swore to pay better attention for the next round. The second ride was flawless. The third run was decidedly going to be my last as pulling the car up the mountain really was challenging. I sped down the mountain, concentrated and determined to perfect my performance. There out of nowhere, in the middle of the street, our farmer’s renowned ram appeared. All of us kids had quite a lot of respect for it because it was huge and didn’t have any sense of humour. In the second that I noticed it, the blood froze in my veins. I realized that swerving would barely be possible since I couldn’t steer my car that precisely. All of this went through my head in a matter of seconds. What happened after this I cannot exactly say. My soapbox and the ram collided. No, it wasn’t a frontal collision. I only hit it sideways and that was enough for my car to overturn and to catapult me onto the ground. I broke my collarbone and the racing car smashed into pieces. Both front wheels broke. The ram was in a state of shock and kindly left me alone. Alas, my career as a racing car driver was over. Still, I think soapbox cars are great. I am however not prepared to enter another soapbox car without brakes.

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