Early losers turn into big winners in the end

Sunday, May 8, 2005

Due to the double elimination nature of the soap box derby, an early defeat can sometimes help a contestant later in the event with extra runs down the hill to get comfortable with the car.

That was evident Saturday in the Cape Girardeau Rotary Club Soap Box Derby when Austin Martin, of Cape Girardeau, shrugged off a first-round defeat to win the super stock division and Hunter Schuette, of Jackson, rallied from a second-round loss to capture the stock division crown.

The Rotary Club raised more than $18,000 through the derby, which was sponsored by Southeast Missouri Hospital.

"We didn't want to start off in the losers bracket," Larry Martin, Austin's father said. "But, yeah, it is my son's first time and he got more comfortable with it, the car got a little quicker, and he learned things to do and not to do and in the long run. It helped him very much."

Austin and Hunter both advance to the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, this summer. To qualify for the national derby, there must be 10 entries in each division. Austin advanced through a field of 13 to become the first local winner of the super stock to advance. Last year, the division had only eight entries.

Hunter defeated a field of 16 in the stock division.

Each round consists of two heats with the time difference determining the winner. In the first round, Austin, 11, driving the Southeast Missouri Hospital car, lost to 15-year old Brandon Perez by the slimmest of margins, 0.194 seconds.

The task of fighting through the elimination bracket to win the title wasn't the hardest part of the early defeat to Austin.

"Well, what I thought was after I entered the elimination bracket, I wasn't able to win a trophy," Austin said.

However, after some derby veterans instructed him that he still had a chance to win, Austin made the most of the opportunity. He advanced through six races in the elimination bracket to get a rematch with Brandon for the title and after losing the first heat by .105, he eased in the second heat to force the winner-take-all final by a margin of .604. He then won by a margin of .349 for the right to travel to Ohio.

In the stock division, for the second straight year, Justin Thurman of Jackson, fell in the final to someone out of the elimination bracket. After winning his first five races, Justin fell twice to Hunter, who was driving Johannes Auto Sales, in the finals. In the first final, Justin's chances for an undefeated run fell in the first heat, when his car swerved to the right, into the cones dividing the two lanes.

Suzanna Bridges of Cape finished third in the super stock and defending division champion Sky Smith of Jackson was fourth.

Coleman Schott, of Jackson, finished third in the stock classification and Zach Owens, of Cape, was fourth.

Tracey Glenn, the second-year director of the derby, said she could not have asked for a more perfect day.

"It has been a smashing success," Glenn said. "I can't say enough about the people in the race this year; they worked so well together. We had parents and relatives of racers help repair each others' cars and that is what it is all about.

"The losers bracket, each division, the loser came back to win the whole race, now that is excitement."

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