Racing With Gravity: Chenery Student Set To Participate In Venerable All-American Soap Box Derby [VIDEO]

Photo: Myles Heller-Baptista will represent the Chenery Middle School’s Soap Box Derby Club at the National championships in Akron, Ohio

While most Chenery Middle School students, the summer break is for going to camp, hanging out with friends at the pool, or traveling to neat places like Europe or the West Coast.

But for Myles Heller-Baptista, this summer week will see the 11-year-old Belmontian hurdling down a steep 300-meter-long hill in Akron, Ohio, at nearly 35 mph in an unpowered fiberglass box on wheels.

Welcome to the tradition known as the All-American Soap Box Derby.

In its 90th year, the competition brings the winners of races around the country and from several foreign nations to the Rubber Captial of the World in the center of the Buckeye state to determine which kid or teen can use gravity the most efficiently to beat nearly 500 competitors to the finish.

The competition – now known as the “Ultimate Speed Challenge” – consists of timed runs in each of three lanes down a 989-foot (301-meter) hill. The car and team that achieve the fastest single run – a tenth usually separates races and sometimes hundredths of a second – is declared the winner. The finals take place on Saturday, July 22.

The Chenery Middle School Soap Box Derby Club and their silverware after the regional meet in Arlington. Club advisor Leon Dyer in the back

The rising sixth grader at what will be known as the Chenery Upper Elementary School come September, Myles got involved in the club run by teacher Leon Dyer after his parents sought a Middle School club that he would be interested in.

Joining the Soap Box Derby Club was a perfect match because, as Myles noted, “I like racing.” What kind of racing? “Any kind of racing,” from watching cars on the track, playing racing video games, and downhill skiing with this family.

Because Myles is still new to the sport, it was decided he would compete in the first of three divisions, known as Stock, which is designed to give first-time builders – between ages 7 -13, and less than 125 pounds and 5’3″ – to compete in simplified cars built from kits.

The club helped make the car, and once Myles did a few training sessions at the Chenery – and, no, Myles didn’t go wheeling down Washington Street at any time to learn the sport – it became clear he was pretty good driving the fiberglass shell.

After several races, Myles and the Chenery team made it to the regional qualifier, including teams from Rhode Island and Connecticut, held in Arlington on very steep Eastern Avenue near the Park Circle Water Tower. The racers took off at the top of the street ending at the Brackett Elementary School by the Robbins Farm Park.

In the double-elimination format, Myles raced against eight Stock entries and lost his first one, moving him into the losers bracket, which meant he would be out if he lost another race. But despite that disadvantage, Myles just kept winning and moved into the regional finals, where he beat the other undefeated finalist twice to win the title.

The Chenery team had some great results in the Super Stock race:

  • 2nd Place – Sophia Shen
  • 3rd Place – Paul Dulude
  • 4th Place – Billy Loftus
  • 5th Place – Mark Anderson
  • 6th Place – Amalia Muller
Race day at the Arlington Soap Box Derby, June 2023

“Once I won that last race, I was happy because I knew I would go to a national race,” said Miles. And the week will be a family affair, with Miles’ family coming with relatives possibly showing up. Dyer – who runs a summer camp – will try to be there for at least one race.

Since the regional win, Dyer and Miles have been fine-tuning the car “a little bit” for the race and training like any of his previous races.

“Everything [Miles] did before; he’ll just continue to do that because he’s prepared. He’s ready,” said Dyer.

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