GILBERT — Rusty Rask still looks back fondly at competing in the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. 17 years ago.
Rask was just 12 at the time and won the qualifying event in Hibbing, which sent him to Derby Downs, where he was the only one from Minnesota to go a round at the time.
“I’m still excited about it when I look at it. I’m proud to say that I did it. It’s definitely a thing to brag about. It’s something that makes you feel good that you did it.’’
Rask is hoping to bring that excitement to the Iron Range with an event in Gilbert next summer.
“My big goal is to try to get this going here. In a couple years my kids will be about this age. I really like doing it so I’m hoping to kind of spread it.’’
In 2002, Rask said there were three or four races in Minnesota. However, that has changed and no Soap Box Derby races are held in the state. He figures people don’t want to run the races themselves or there isn’t enough help available.
“I’m willing to take on the challenge.’’
Rask, 29, is looking at a three-block area on Summit Street in Gilbert for the two-car raceway. It is situated right by a park, where little kids could go play and be occupied during the event.
Some members of the Gilbert City Council have voiced their support to Rask, who plans to make it happen in June or July, most likely. He still wants to gauge interest, find out if it’s worth doing and get some additional community involvement.
No matter what happens, he’s committed to doing it himself. “If people don’t show up, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s just a little bit of my time to take care of it.’’
Rask believes Soap Box Derby racing is a great event to get youth involved in.
“You put the kit together with your child. It teaches them how to follow instructions, use tools, put things together.’’
As far as his own experience building the car with his dad Owen, “we made our car look real nice. It was kind of a pride thing for us. I’d wax it every day.’’
A derby car kit purchased from Soap Box Derby America is required and costs between $500 and $600. Complete building instructions and a rule book can be found on Facebook at Soap Box Derby Minnesota. YouTube has videos, as well.
Assembling the car isn’t too difficult, according to Rask, who figured it would take two or three hours for those that know what they’re doing. It basically comes down to running cables for the steering and making sure everything is tight and lining up. He added there is no motor and gravity propels each competitor to the bottom of the track.
There is a weight limit to the cars, said Rask, which is 200 pounds or less with the driver. Weights are also added when necessary to make the derby cars as equal as possible. The vehicles travel between 10 and 15 mph.
The Gilbert resident is looking forward to sending one of the young drivers to the World Finals in Akron if there are enough vehicles entered. Twelves cars would be needed in each of the Stock and Super Stock classes. Stock covers drivers from age 7-14, while Super Stock is 9-19.
Rask was in the Stock class, himself from age 9 or 10 to 12. He took third in his first race in Hibbing; fifth in his second race and first in his third year, which sent him to Akron.
“If you can get out to Akron and do it, it’s a great experience. It really is.
“It’s definitely a neat experience to see. It made me go into a lot of different racing. I ended up going into racing 4-wheelers after this. I raced Midwest Mods and Pure Stocks at Hibbing and Rapids. I want to get my kids into it too.’’
Rask, who is a Gilbert firefighter and Minntac employee, is looking to include food vendors and the Gilbert fire trucks at the event in his home town, which will be open to racers from across the region.
“I want to make it a big community day kind of thing.’’
The former Soap Box Derby driver is excited to think children and youth will be building cars in the next 11 months or so.
“Hopefully, this winter there will be a whole bunch of kids in their garage getting it ready.’’
Anyone interested can contact Rask at 780-3630 or through Facebook at Soap Box Derby Minnesota. He said he welcomes questions about the event and how a person would go about building a car.