Granddad recalls Soap Box Derby when he raced

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Bryce March no longer has the $1 pocket watch he won more than six decades ago in the Soap Box Derby race at Jackson.

"I wish I did," said March, who received the watch for having the "best brakes" on his racer.

Actually, March's brakes resulted in his losing a heat during the 1940 race, held at Mill Hill, a section of Main Street west of the Cake Girardeau County Courthouse in Jackson.

A big problem was keeping people off the track, and March had to slam on his brakes to avoid a spectator who had stepped onto the racetrack.

March recalls his braking incident, and other events surrounding the 1939 and 1940 races.

This year, he will be involved in soap box derby racing again. He has signed on as a consultant for his grandson, Taylor March, who will be participating in his first derby race.

"Taylor will be driving a car which belonged to O.D. Niswonger," said Bryce March, who added that Niswonger had donated the racer to the Rotary Club of Cape Girardeau.

The Rotary Club and St. Francis Medical Center are sponsors for the races.

"When I was racing soap boxes, derbies were held in Jackson and Cape Girardeau," said March. "A lot of youngsters were building racers back then, not necessarily to enter the derby, but to ride around neighborhood streets."

The rules were a bit different then, said March. "The cars could have different designs," he said, and many of them were made from old "orange crates."

March said his 1940 racer was made form sheet metal from an old sign.

"Brennecke Chevrolet sponsored the derby and purchased the wheels," he said, "and, they provided me with a 1938 steering wheel for the car."

The weight limit was somewhat different.

In 1940, the limit was 250 pounds, counting car and driver. Today, the limit is 200 pounds.

March is looking forward to this year's race.

More than 25 drivers will be on hand for the races at North Sprigg Street in front of Blanchard Schools.

Drivers last weekend tested their cars on the track.

This week it's for real.

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