June 19, 2024

Arrowhead Ranch hosts 17th annual Stanwood-Camano Soap Box Derby

The spirit of competition and community charged the air at the 17th annual Stanwood-Camano Soap Box Derby at Arrowhead Ranch on Camano Island Saturday, June 15.

The spirit of competition and community charged the air at the 17th annual Stanwood-Camano Soap Box Derby at Arrowhead Ranch on Camano Island Saturday, June 15.

Despite a fit of rain, the skies opened to partially cloudy weather as cheers of onlookers and the clanging of cowbells rang out at every stretch of track.

“We're fortunate to be one of the communities in this country to have a soap box derby that's affiliated with the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, which has been in existence for about ninety years now,” said Ed Bednarczyk, one of the announcers at the event.

The winners of each class, stock, super stock and masters’ class at the Stanwood-Camano derby will go on to Akron, Ohio to compete.

“We've built this up out here to be the second-largest soap box derby in the world,” he continued. “That didn't come easy. It came with a lot of volunteers, a lot of people's efforts to get this thing going — and now over 200 volunteers every year put it on — and it's just a wonderful thing.”

This year’s race saw 82 cars competing for the chance to compete in Akron.

“It just couldn't be better,” Bednarczyk said.

The derby provides a platform for STEAM education — an approach to teaching and learning that combines science, technology, engineering, arts and math to guide student inquiry, discussion and problem-solving.

“This race, what it does for the community, it's stacked with great things,” Bednarczyk said. “The main thing is bringing families and people together in a safe environment. The kids get hands-on with tech.”

Bednarczyk said it’s also great because the kids get mentored by a family member and work on the project as a team.

“It's that wonder of togetherness, which so many communities are great at today, across this country, that keeps our communities together,” Bednarczyk added.

Randy and Marla Heagle, owners of Arrowhead Ranch and co-founders of the Stanwood-Camano Soap Box Derby, were excited in the days prior to the event.

“The Hamilton smokestack has a soap box derby car and lights up there right now and that, to me, says that Stanwood-Camano is a derby town, that the community supports it, and the Lions Club, who put it up, supports it,” Marla Heagle said. “It's just a very cool reminder of how much both Stanwood and Camano have embraced this event, and it's really unique across the country.”

Though soap box races are declining across the county, the one is Stanwood-Camano is still going strong.

“New sponsors, new racers and return racers are joining it,” she said.

Randy Heagle said one of his favorite parts of the derby is seeing kids’ eagerness as race day approaches.

“What is always exciting about the derby is to see these kids, to see their faces light up, and to see the light bulb come on as they learn about these cars,” he said. “Then the kids start understanding how to run on a track and feel the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.”

Along with the mentors and racers, the derby sees business involvement through sponsorships. Randy Heagle said this aspect makes the event even more community-inclusive.

When the Heagles built the track at Arrowhead Ranch in 2018, Marla Heagle said it was always a hope to have a local racer compete and win in Ohio.

“That hadn't happened since 1966, somebody from Washington winning at the national race, and so that was kind of the dream to have a championship racer come out of Arrowhead Ranch,” she said. “And it happened in 2021 when we had Bella Siddle who won the world championship race, and then she did it again in 2023.”

Up in the race tower, John Swanson, a local math teacher, announced the winners of each race alongside Bednarczyk.

“It's good old-fashioned all-American fun,” Swanson said. “It's super family-friendly. I've got two daughters. I've taught them how to use tools, and then learning the competition, sportsmanship, in addition to the tools, the building, they've become fairly proficient at doing that and then just the confidence to be able to do it too. I love how the community comes together.”

“I mean, look at all the people here,” he added “It's just a great event.”

One of the families at this year’s event brought along with them a little piece of soap box derby history.

William Trammell competed in the number 125 car — which he drew as a number that coincidentally matched the number of his great-grandpa Floyd Herigstad’s car that took first place in Silverton, Oregon in 1942.

“82 years later they end up with this exact same soap box car number that was completely by chance,” said Scott Herigstad, William's grandfather. “The odds were pretty slim, but it was fun.”

Down at the end of the track, beneath the tower, Bednarczyk extolled the spirit of the event. He commented on the many sponsors, volunteers and drivers, some of whom have gone on to become airline jet pilots, and Ferrari test drivers.

According to Bednarczyk, though, the community is the biggest winner here.

“Every community in America would love to have this race and we are so fortunate to have this, to have the can-do spirit that Randy and Marla have put forth in continuing this race every year,” he said. “They start something, they finish it, but this race is this event is not going to be finished. It's going to continue on for many, many years to come.”

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