1973-The Great Soap Box Derby Scandal! Almanac of Absurdities Flashback for 8.19.2012

The Car at the Center of the Scandal

Today’s the day in 1934 that the Very First “All American Soap Box Derby was held in 1934…nominally the race is intended to be a competition between wooden, gravity powered jalopies that were built by the late elementary to junior high school kids that ride them to victory, or defeat. But the image that the competitors ride in “Boy Built” cars, as the rules used to describe them, took a severe beating in 1973, thanks to a fellow by the name of Robert Lange. Lange had a losing entry in the Soap Box Derby races of his childhood, and grew up to become a wealthy entrepreneur in the high-tech ski equipment business. When his son expressed an interest in the soap box derby, Lange went whole hog. Where some entrants quietly admit that they did little more than watch their fathers build their cars, Lange included his son…but the son was operating dad’s high tech fiberglass fabrication equipment. Some of Lange’s Friends helped out too…like the one that gave the Soap Box Derby car access to hours of testing in the Cal Tech wind tunnel. After two years of that kind of all out soap box warfare, Lange’s son won the derby in 1972. The story might have ended there, but Lange’s adopted Nephew wanted in the next year, so using the same molds and technology, they built 14 year old Jimmy Gronen his own high tech soap box car…but this time, Lange added high powered electromagnets in the nose, magnets that could be activated by a switch that Jimmy pressed with his helmet as the race started. Perversely Uncle Robert had Jimmy install the cheating device in the car himself…kind of a strange way to honor the whole ‘boy built’ philosophy. The magnetic pull between the cars and the falling steel gate that started the race gave Jimmy’s car a few instants head start…and before you know it, cousin Jimmy was the world champ. Then, three days later, when the scheme became public he was stripped of the title and trophy in a scandal that shook the soap box derby world…and its been all downhill from there.

Album Notes:  Grateful Acknowledgments to Mike Koenig, and Drum 8.  Some Musical Motifs Written and Performed by Kevin McLeod,  Licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 3.0″ http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ and used here by permission, and with appreciation and thanks.  Some audio may be used under the Fair Use Doctrine

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About denniscmichael

Voice Artist, Writer, Journalist, even sometime actor. For 18 years the writer and voice for CNN's Hollywood Minute.
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