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Do you dare to race derby? Indulge a need for speed

Don Lucarell’s car collection includes cars from all divisions, including a 1939 replica built by Peter Giaraffa.
HAMBURG — Don Lucarell has had a passion for soap box derby racing since he first raced his car in 1946 and 1947, at a track on Best Street, where the old rock pile used to be.

“There’s nothing like the sound of derby wheels going down the track,” he said, with a broad smile. “I got derby fever and well, it never went away. I never won anything, but I loved it.”

Back then, the derby was sponsored by the Courier Express and the Buffalo Evening News, he explained, and a CHevrolet used to be given away as the grand prize.

“Well, then dads began to get involved, building the cars, and then they decided to switch to a college scholarship, after that,” he said.

Don Lucarell (forefront) posed with his friend Peter Giaraffa, who built a replica of a car he raced in 1939. The original is in a museum in Akron, Ohio.
The race stopped running in Buffalo four or five years ago, but last year, Lucarell decided to put his derby fever to work, instituting Hamburg as a race city.

“We did have to fight to get it in Hamburg,” he said. “We put up tents, just like BurgerFest, and we get maybe a couple hundred spectators. We fill the space,” he added. “If we get any bigger, maybe we’d have to move, but we can accommodate 20-15 cars.”

That’s where the derby is right now, the organizers explained. The race, which is a qualifying race for the national championships held in Ohio in July, needs 12 kids to participate. Right now, five are signed up.

“We’re looking for sponsors, but mostly, we’re looking for kids,” Lucarell said. “It’s an opportunity for them to do a project, start-to-finish. It’s a chance to have ownership over something; to do something that they built, that’s all their own.”

Lucarell collects programs from previous national derby races, including these selections from last year.
The local All American Soap Box Derby chairperson is hosting a clinic at his home at 47 Darlich Avenue in Hamburg on June 12 at 5 p.m., to teach participating kids how to put together a car.

“They’ve got to get a kit from headquarters online,” he explained. “And the whole process takes about four hours.”

As for explaining the interest of the soap box derby, Lucarell said it’s like “trying to explain what a football game is like.

“You bring a kid down to see a race and they get it. They just get it,” he said. “It’s the spirit of competition, it’s the speed. We had one little girl last year who was in the chute for her first race and she says, ‘I’m scared.’ Then, you should’ve seen her going down the track, and she gets finished and she couldn’t wait to do it again. That’s what derby is.”

Lucarell and his fellow committee members have gone to local schools, explaining the race and trying to garner interest from students.

“Back when we were kids, we knew how to work with our hands. We were always making things,” he said. “My dad never helped me make my cars. But now, the parents help. The kids need to try something that’s physical, that they can own.”

The race will take off down Buffalo Street on June 21, with trial runs, brake tests and a weigh-in the night before.
Race Director Melissa Haag said that, “children who race (ages 7-18) choose a division to race in and there are cities across the country and now world, who participate locally and then have an opportunity to race in the world championships. Our local race only caters to one division right now, the superstock division [fiberglass kit cars with a 230lbs maximum with kids in the car] which are kids ages 9-18. The other divisions include: stock, masters and ultimate speed.”

Lucarell showed off his collection of derby cars, from all divisions, from stock to ultimate speed.

“Once you get down that hill one time, you can’t wait to go again,” he said. “The kids just go bananas.”

So how does a kid with budding derby fever get in on the game? An official form for a local race, the designation of Hamburg’s June 21 race, must be returned to the national race committee. Lucarell said that he, as well as other committee members, are willing to answer any questions a child or potential sponsor may have, and that they are also seeking volunteers to help, on race day.

Sponsorship forms, from advertising in the program for less than $100 to full sponsorship at $3,000, to buying a car at $1,000 or co-sponsoring one at $250, are also available. Checks and donations can be directed to: All American Soap Box Derby, 122 Hawkins Avenue, Hamburg, N.Y. 14075.

Interested kids or parents can also contact Haag with questions or concerns at 585-469-6443 or melhaag1312@yahoo.com.
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