A Look into the Historic Vernon Street Soapbox Derby

3 min read

Connor Struyk ’20

Staff Writer

As is probably quite obvious by now, I have a deep love for almost everything automotive. I spend far too much of my time browsing the internet looking for interesting car advertisements and Formula One races are one of the few things that can get me out of bed on the weekend before noon. It is for this reason that Trinity has sometimes disappointed me. Trinity is located between two of the most historic race tracks in the United States: Lime Rock Park and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. These two tracks are close by, which is why it shocked me that there is no real motorsport tradition or passion for racing on campus at all.

As it turns out, there used to be. Several decades ago, Vernon Street played host to a soapbox race. From what I’ve been able to find, it seems as though Trinity’s fraternities would create their own soapbox cars and race against each other down Vernon Street. For those of you who don’t know, a soapbox car uses exclusively gravity and driver skill to try and get down a hill the fastest. For some unknown reason (I’m sure it had something to do with safety), this tradition was stopped. I propose that we try and bring it back but this time, organize it on a grander scale. Instead of having only the fraternities participate, the race should be open to all cultural houses and student organizations.

The race could be run in a similar way to how Red Bull does their annual soapbox races around the world. The course would be marked out and lined with hay bales for safety and along the course small jumps or obstacles could be placed. The Red Bull races are somewhat extreme in this regard. However, I feel that even a significantly toned-down course would still be highly enjoyable. Cars would be standardized based upon a certain tire and bearing each team would be required to use. Other than that, each team would basically have free reign as to how they could create their own car. Teams could be judged not only on who completed to track the fastest, but on categories such as who created the nicest car, who had the most creative costumes, and who had the best crash. Safety could be improved (admittedly not much) by forcing all drivers to wear crash helmets and safety harnesses. Cars would also be sent down the track one at a time to avoid potential collisions.

I admit that this idea would probably be a hard sell as there is a not insignificant safety concern as well as the issue of closing Vernon Street for a day to allow the race to happen. However, this soapbox race used to be a tradition and I feel that with a few modifications, this race could be conducted safely and help bring the different student organizations on campus together.

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