Ted Ebbink: Building character one bolt at a time

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When I volunteered as a Pikes Peak Soap Box Derby staff member in 2006, I had no previous exposure to the Soap Box Derby. The day of the derby, I had my wife bring our two sons, Michael, age 8, and David, age 6, to see if they would be interested in building cars and entering the derby. The boys enjoyed watching the racers and both wanted to race in the derby.

Here's where the challenge begins for a novice like me. As my friends will tell you, there is obviously no prior mechanical or racing experience required of the parents. I called the All American Soap Box Derby headquarters to ask how long it took to assemble the kits and was told that you could do it in one day. I failed to clarify that I had no power tools and was not going to build the car myself. In March 2008, I ordered a Super Stock division kit for Michael and a Stock division kit for David. When the kits arrived, we cleared an area of the garage and I built rolling platforms to allow for easier assembly. The smaller parts for the kit are in plastic bags marked for the twelve sections of the kit. We had to buy some basic tools to match the list provided in the instructions. This sums up my part in building the soap box cars.

I sat the boys down and told them that they would be building the soap box cars. I explained that I was their untrained labor in case they needed parts held in place. The boys would have to read the instructions, find the parts, select the tools required, and assemble the kit. The 50-plus pages of instructions were on CD, so we had a laptop computer in the garage next to the cars. I did help along the way with unfamiliar words in the instructions, but in most cases there were also drawings and pictures. I showed the boys the tools in our toolboxes and explained their uses. We agreed on a schedule of one hour every other day and the boys completed their cars in 15-21 hours over the next two months.

When I say they enjoyed building the cars, it truly is an understatement. The pride of accomplishment the boys displayed at each stage of the assembly was priceless. The unforgettable moments we shared will live forever. The first moment was when Michael realized he had assembled both axles and the steering mechanism on the car with the floorboard of the car upside down. Michael spent 2.5 hours disassembling and reassembling the car with the floorboard right side up. The second moment was when I once, and only once, reached for a wrench for David. David looked at me and said, "Dad, this is my car." I sat down, duly put in my place. When the boys completed their cars, I sat each of them down and said that they were champions as of today and the derby was just icing on the cake.

We sold advertising space to various sponsors and were gratified that companies were eager to participate in a soap box derby car. The boys designed the decorations for their cars and named them after men who served their country in the military and the Colorado Springs community in Woodmen Valley SERTOMA after their retirements before passing away.

Michael won his first race, lost his second race in the double elimination derby, worked his way through the secondary bracket of racers, met the primary bracket winner in the finals, and won to become the 2008 Pikes Peak Soap Box Derby Super Stock Division Champion in his first derby year. David won the trophy for Best Car Appearance in the Stock Division. The pride our family feels about their accomplishments will last a lifetime.

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