By Cat Wurdack


It’s derby time in Portland – and racers are readying their boxcars. Every year, soapbox riders speed down Mt. Tabor at an average of 30 mph in peculiar homemade boxcars with thousands of bystanders cheering them on for a one-of-a-kind trophy and the glory of winning the derby.

The 17th Annual Adult Soapbox Derby takes place Saturday August 17, at Mt. Tabor Park from 10 am – 4 pm. Race check-in is at 6 am and the first race kicks off at 10 am.

It’s not just weird, it’s super weird. Some believe that the soapbox derby engages our imagination, and demonstrates ingenuity, commitment, and hard work – and then there are the naysayers who think it’s another excuse to swill beer and party when it’s all over.

There is no correct position. The unabashed popularity of derby speaks for itself.

At this year’s Derby, you’ll find boldly crafted, decently engineered boxcars and pit teams who inspire with slogans like “Shake it, don’t brake it”; “Race all day, rock all night”; and “Res Ipsa Loquitor” (the thing itself speaks).

There are soapbox gladiators who navigate Blood Alley and Learning Curve on a 7/10 of a mile course with as much courage and skill as they can muster given that many of them have been up all night putting finishing touches on their surreal creations.

The coveted trophy every racer dreams of winning is a unique, handcrafted “not-your-grandmother’s” keepsake assembled by the derby’s specialized trophy design team.

Seventeen out of 39 lucky racers vie to win a trophy in any one of nineteen categories including: Best Crash (most spectacular crash that doesn’t cause an injury); the predictable best-of costume, boxcar design, and art; and the off-topic Best Cougar which is decided by a judge who identifies what is believed to be the most attractive cougar on the mountain. (Nobody said they were politically correct.)

It’s hard to understand what inspired this year’s Lame Duck award – a rubber ducky-style brass duck, except that it exemplifies the twisted creativity and unbridled spirit that beats at the heart of derby.

Mark Hunter, the undisputed rock star of derby and MC who distributes the awards, has put in about 500 volunteer hours each year for 6 years as executive project manager of the event. He works with a team of 90+ volunteers to produce the derby.

Hunter competed in derby for 6 years before stepping into the role of executive project manager. He is responsible for all logistics: staff police, traffic control, radio communication with crowd safety personnel, placement of course barricades – everything down to the porta-potties.

He’s hoping to retire soon from the management end of things and build himself another racing car.

Tireless derby fundraiser Michelle “Red” Mathews, a soapbox derby partner and derby judge since 2010, raises money for the derby all year.

Mathews has gotten really good at extending an outstretched palm and bringing in community sponsors and she is always looking for more support because derby costs spiral upwardseach year.

Matthews’ favorite part of derby is early in the morning when everything is in place and the boxcars are being pulled up the mountain to begin another race day.

See you at the derby!