On 15 June, seasoned racers and budding builders convened for qualifying rounds of the Soapbox Car Derby world championships in Berlin. It was the 25th running of the race, from which top qualifiers would move on to the national round in Brandenburg. The world championships are scheduled to take place on US soil later this year, at their traditional setting of Akron, Ohio.
Soapbox derbies (called seifenkistenrennen in German) have been fixtures of automotive culture virtually since the dawn of the passenger-car era. Lacking propulsion, drivers race down a slight incline in aerodynamic single-seat fuselages, with the goal of recording the fastest time on the course. Though the first derby cars were built from wood, today’s contraptions are aero-optimised bullets fashioned from fibreglass.
Portugal supporters may argue the point, but no oversold penalty or headbutt can compete for controversy with the scandal that rocked soapbox racing in 1973. American Jimmy Gronen, 14 at the time, had his world title revoked when it was discovered that he had affixed electromagnets inside the nose of his racer. A connection activated by pressure on Gronen’s headrest gave the car an (illegal) boost off the line.
Not exactly a “Hand of God” moment, but not far off the pace.