Champions, Cheaters, and Childhood Dreams

Memories of the Soap Box Derby

by Melanie Payne

Pages: 241

Size: 6 x 9


Updated Edition, with Epilogue and Revised Appendices

From the mid-1930s, the All-American Soap Box Derby has enabled thousands of youngsters to use their curiosity, ingenuity, and determination.  Through first-person accounts, Champions, Cheaters, and Childhood Dreams chronicles a history of the race from a hillside in Dayton to the corporate-sponsored, star-studded event it became in the 1950s and 1960s.  The influence of the Great Depression, World War II, Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation, Vietnam, and Watergate helped shape and transform the race from a simple amateur event into an American icon.  The revised edition has been updated to include a history of the race through 2010 and revised appendices.

Loney Kline, Akron City Champion 1934 and 1935
I always built little cars.  I used to get crates that melons came in, put wheels on them and run them around.…We were building crazy things like this even before the derby started.

Gilbert Klecan, 1946 Champion
I primed (my car) and sanded it and tried to get several coats on, but it wasn’t the smoothest job because it was a rush job.  Then when I got to Akron they put a big number nine on it and that was rough.  So Chuck Boswell gave me black graphite to put on it.  I’m sweaty, and wiping my face, and I’m slapping the graphite on the car to make it smoother and it got on me.

Stan Howard, 1955 Columbus, Georgia City Champion
My parents had to sign all these releases in case I got hurt or anything.  Even back in 1954 you had to satisfy the government.

K. D. Cline, 1967  World Champion
I have seven brothers and sisters, and all of us kids raced in the Soap Box Derby.  My dad was regional manager for Northern Natural Gas and we moved around a lot.…We got into building derby cars for about twenty years.

Jim Gronen, Champion for a Day, 1973
That’s why the scandal of the Soap Box Derby was really huge.  It fit in with something that was happening on a collective level.

About the author

Melanie Payne is an award-winning journalist and writer. Her work has appeared in magazines and newspapers nationwide. She has worked as a staff writer for the Akron Beacon Journal, the Sacramento Bee newspapers and The News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida. A Cleveland, Ohio native, she currently lives in Southwest Florida with her husband, Rodney Williams.

Additional information


Ohio History and Culture


Melanie Payne

Pub date



soap box derby; soap box derby history; all-american soap box derby; gravity grand prix; Akron history

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