Cape family leaves for Soap Box Derby race

Sunday, July 15, 2007
Siblings Jordan and April Little posed Thursday with soap boxes at Rushing Marine in Jackson. The two are competing in the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. (Kit Doyle)

April and Jordan Little are geared up to represent Cape Girardeau in the 70th annual All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio.

April, 13, Jordan, 9, and their mother, Beth, began their 10-hour trip Saturday afternoon. They will spend the week leading up to Friday's final race calibrating their cars, racing in test runs and enjoying the entertainment provided by the derby.

The Cape Girardeau Rotary Club is defraying some of the Littles' expenses while in Akron. It has sponsored Cape Girardeau's race for the past eight years.

Rotarian Lowell Peterson met April and Jordan before the Cape Girardeau race in May. After they advanced to the national competition, they took apart their cars in Peterson's driveway to make sure the cars met all specifications for the Akron race.

Peterson said the kit assembly is relatively simple, but contestants can spend countless hours tweaking the car for optimal performance. He said the car's axles have to be bent so that they will be straight once the child sits in the car, and the car must be waxed to increase speed.

"They're really great kids," Peterson said. "They worked well with their mother as they put the cars together and really gained in self-confidence through the process. There's a value to the race that goes beyond who won."

Peterson said Beth's employer, Mike Rushing, owner of Rushing Marine, was a critical part in April and Jordan's success. Rushing sponsors both of their cars.

Rushing downplayed his involvement, however, and said the event was all about the children.

"It was just great to see April and Jordan's self-esteem grow through the process," Rushing said. "Both kids have worked really hard."

Rushing said he plans to travel to Akron on Wednesday to cheer on April and Jordan.

The Soap Box Derby races in Cape Girardeau and Jackson started in the 1930s. The races were sponsored by local Chevrolet dealerships.

Bryce March, of Cape Girardeau, competed in the Jackson race in 1939 and 1940.

March said the design of the cars has changed drastically since he competed.

April and Jordan's cars came in kits purchased from the All-American Soap Box Derby. March said he made his car from whatever spare parts he could find.

"There were some suggested drawings of what the car should look like, and you could spend a maximum of $10 on your car," March said. "The wheels were the only thing standard for the cars."

March said although he finished last in his race, he received a pocket watch for avoiding a young girl who ran out onto the track.

"I was so slow that by the time I got down the hill, the girl had time to get out into the road," March said. "I hit my brakes and stopped before I got to her. I was the unanimous winner of the best brakes in the race, and they gave me the watch."

The times may have changed and the cars may be slicker, but the Soap Box Derby still provides an excellent learning experience for children and their families.

The Southeast Missourian will provide extensive coverage of April and Jordan's week in Akron, so look for updates on semissourian.com and in the newspaper starting Monday.

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