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Building soapbox car a retro thrill

Quinn Main
Quinn Main's soapbox car is a work in progress, and the 10-year-old is excited to drive it in the Mission and District Soapbox Derby Association's annual races on Saturday, June 14.
— image credit: Dan Kinvig photo

For Allan Main, working on a soapbox derby car with his son Quinn is a bit like taking a time machine back to his own childhood.

Growing up in North Vancouver, the elder Main spent hours building makeshift cars out of materials scavenged from his dad’s garage and then hopping into the driver’s seat and careening down local hills.

“My dad was in construction, so there was always wood around the house,” he recalled with a smile. “You throw some two-by-fours with a piece of plywood, and usually you’d find a big spike and spike the wheels onto the two-by-fours. They were never overly well-designed.

“The brake would be, you’d nail a stick against the side and pull it against the road. But the nails weren’t as strong as they needed to be, and the stick would always come loose.”

Allan is rekindling some of those memories with Quinn, age 10, in fashioning a car for the Mission and District Soapbox Derby Association’s annual races on Saturday, June 14.

Gone is the crude stick-brake of Allan’s childhood – all soapbox derby entries are required to have foot-pedal brakes. Helmets, goggles and seat belts are among the other mandatory precautions.

But the thrill of flying down the hill is exactly the same – racers can approach speeds of 50 kilometres per hour, Allan said, cruising down the course which runs on Stave Lake Street from Knight Ave. to 11 Ave.

“I’m ready to beat anyone who challenges me,” said Quinn. “My dad’s been doing this for a while, since he was a little kid, so we might have a good chance of winning.”

This is the Main family’s first crack at the Mission derby. It was Quinn’s idea to build a soapbox car, and his dad took him to a workshop at Fraser Valley Ace Hardware to get some design ideas.

Much of the construction was actually completed at Allan’s parents’ place in North Vancouver – the same house Allan grew up in – before moving it back home to Mission this week for the finishing touches.

“Mostly, Quinn likes to drill,” Allan said with a smile. “I kind of collect a few holes to drill, so he can come out and pop a few holes in it,” he added. “Sometimes I just give him a piece of plywood or a two-by-four, and he just goes and drills.”

Quinn, who is in Grade 4 at Albert McMahon Elementary, termed the construction process “pretty fun.

“I can’t wait until it’s finished, though,” he said.

Indeed, this ride is going to look pretty sweet.

Quinn envisions an alligator paint job – green, with sharp teeth and eyes at the front. He’s also got headlights, a siren, a flashing light and a coffee cup holder on his wish list, but his dad says he’ll see if they have time to get to those items.

Asked how much time he’s poured into the derby car, Allan chuckled, “I’d hate to think, to be honest with you,” he said, noting that he’s made countless trip to the hardware store to pick up just one more part. “I spent most of last weekend on it, so it’s probably 20 hours with 15 or 20 more to go.

“At one point not too long ago, I was thinking, ‘This is a lot of work – what am I doing this thing for?’ But then you watch the videos (on the Mission derby website), and it just looks like such a kick. Once Quinn’s driving the car, I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun getting that kind of speed down the hill.”

The June 14 Mission soapbox derby begins at 7:30 a.m. with racers’ check-in and car inspections, followed by the opening ceremonies and races running from 9:15 a.m. to noon. After a lunch break featuring martial arts demonstrations and pudding- and hot dog-eating contests, the second heats run from 12:30 to 4 p.m. with awards to follow.

The public is invited to attend.the derby, which has a storied history in the community dating back to 1946. For more information, visit missionsoapbox.com.

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