For race director Alvin Staples, the Fredericksburg Soap Box Derby is more than a downtown race. Along with his wife, Michelle, and three children, Travis, Sarah and Lindsay, Staples has passionately dedicated much of his time over the last two decades to this event. Back in 1996, when the Derby was brought back to Fredericksburg, Staples, who owned an auto paint shop at the time, had no idea then that the derby would impact his entire family for the next 20 years. After seeing the first race, Staples was hooked, and felt inspired to help in any way he could, particularly with the design and painting of the then plain looking cars. Since then, the entire Staples family has been instrumental in evolving the annual Soap Box Derby event into a unique experience that the entire community can enjoy and take pride in.
Beyond helping other families participate in the process, Staples has cherished the sacred bonding time the Derby races have allowed him to experience with his children, particularly when traveling for competitions with son, Travis.
“We never kept track of how many trophies he won, because it was never about that, but about the time we got to spend together,” recalls Staples fondly of his years on the road with Travis. “It was honestly the greatest time of our lives.”
In addition to providing a fun and unique event for the community, everyone involved in bringing the Soap Box Derby to life — from the countless volunteers, sponsors and businesses to Fredericksburg’s Department of Parks and Recreation — has become a family over the years, as Staples can personally attest to. When Staples’ daughter was diagnosed with cancer last year and the family had to temporarily relocate for surgery and treatment, the Soap Box Derby community pulled together to keep everything going and help in any way they could to continue to make the event a great experience for participants.
What makes the Soap Box Derby event so special is that it provides a rare opportunity for children to participate in a unique sporting event with their parents. Unlike team sports, where parents cheer on from the sidelines, the Soap Box Derby is an occasion for parents to become active participants themselves, helping their children to partake in an experience that is non-judgmental, and where kids can feel a sense of accomplishment that comes directly from their own individual efforts. Parents not only benefit from the quality time spent with their children, but also develop friendships themselves. And beyond the enriching family and social experience, the Soap Box Derby is another shining example of Fredericksburg’s eternal family-friendly charm. With the community cheering on and the checkered race flags lining William Street, the event has been nicknamed the “Norman Rockwell” race, the epitome of timeless Americana.
Having worked with all levels of experience and ages, Staples encourages any child who expresses interest to participate.
“It’s something that every child can look forward to once a year,” he says of the event.
For first timers, all Derby volunteers work hard to ensure that families get the assistance they need to have a great race. Says Staples, “All the help in the world is only a phone call away.” The Annual Fredericksburg Soap Box Derby is celebrating its 20th Anniversary, and race day will take place on June 11, 2016. For more information, visit http://fredericksburgsoapbox.com/