Gravity and ingenuity. That’s what you have to work with if you want to win a Soap Box Derby race. And people have been doing this for decades now. Akron, Ohio has been the home of the Soap Box Derby World Championships since 1935. But it all almost faded away after the event held in 1973. This was an event marred by a winner that was discovered to be cheating.
Racer Jimmy Gronen was beating up on the other kids around him. The lightweight 14-year-old had a car with massive margins of victory. According to Wikipedia, the average heat race at the time was decided by a victory margin of between one to three feet. Gronen was making it to the finish line with a gap of between 20 to 30 feet. That’s massive. How did he do it?
His uncle (and legal guardian) had constructed an electromagnetic system by which to gain an advantage. The starting block uses a metal lever that falls away to release the cars. Gronen’s car used a magnet to provide an initial pull as the metal pole fell away. It’s brilliant, really. But it’s also against the rules. The winning car was x-rayed as competitors cried foul. Once the system was discovered, Gronen was stripped of the title and the second-place finished was declared champion for that year.
It seems like Gronen’s uncle could’ve had a career in motorsport if he wasn’t already a wealthy engineer. Somewhere, Smokey Yunick is wiping away a happy tear. And if this wasn’t an event for children, we might nod and smile as well.