VIDEO: Soap Box Derby Returns to Newark
City's first derby since 1972 held last weekend
It was a day at the races in Newark as sleek soapbox cars zoomed down Warren Street for the city's revival of a classic hobby.
Youth racing event the All-American Soap Box Derby returned to Brick City for the first time Saturday in 40 years when the popular program drew thousands of spectators to the race on Central Avenue.
In 1967, businessman Ray Santullo instituted the Newark derby after learning of the national race that started in 1934 in Dayton, OH. In its prime, the New Jersey race featured celebrities like O.J. Simpson, the 1968 Heisman Trophy winner, and Miss America contestants and was sponsored by Chevrolet.
But the annual event fizzled out in 1972 following Santullo's tragic death and was never held in Newark again – until now.
Organizers behind New Brunswick's Soap Box Derby, which held its competition June 10, as well as volunteers from New Jersey Institute of Technology and Newark nonprofit Our Youth Now, are hoping for a resurgence of the popular race in its native city.
"It started out as a little fun joke but it turned into something real," said Juan Silva, founder of Our Youth Now, of his idea to return the race to Newark.
While Saturday's derby wasn't a full-on competition, a couple dozen students from Newark and the surrounding area got their first taste of racing, strapping on helmets and zipping down the Warren Street hill in their choice of car.
"At first, you're afraid you're going to crash," said Keely Aouga, 10, of Discovery Charter School in Newark, adding that her first time racing was "a lot of fun."
Boys and girls raced as a fast as 20 m.p.h. down a stretch of road between University Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in stock, super stock and masters cars, which are differentiated by weight and style.
Also racing that day was Kristen Santullo, the 13-year-old granddaughter of Ray Santullo who sped along in a stunning green masters car (see video) as dad Tony and older sister Lauren cheered on.
Silva said he expects next year's derby in Newark to be a qualifier for the July championship in Akron, OH. Boys and girls ages seven to 17 will race in three car divisions and will have to construct their soapbox cars out of kits.
"This whole thing is a lot of fun," said Tommy Flynn, who was recently inducted into the New Jersey Soap Box Derby Hall of Fame. Flynn's grandson, Patrick, is the 2011 masters champion of the New Brunswick derby.
See video and pictures above for more information.