Building a soapbox racer: 101

By Dale Cory

“I’m a little nervous,” admitted seven-year-old Carson Westling, when asked if the thought of racing down Ponoka’s 42nd Avenue in a soapbox car is a little scary. “I saw them last year, and I said, ‘Mom, I really want to be in one of those.”

Come race day, when Carson slides his body into the slick racer he and his father Kevin are building, that nervousness is likely to fade away, allowing tears of joy to take over.

The Westlings are building a soapbox car in preparation for Ponoka’s annual Downhill Derby Classic race, which is set for Sunday, Sept. 12.

The family quickly became sold on the idea of soapbox racing after watching last year’s event.

“We went and watched last year, and both the boys were so excited to get involved,” said Kevin Westling. “We had been working on my demolition cars, and Carson said, ‘I want to build a derby car too’.”

Westling began building the racer one week ago. He finished his masterpiece during the Labour Day long weekend, and has been practicing on local hills in preparation for the big event.

So, how much did Westling know about building a soapbox car before he took on this daunting challenge?

“Absolutely nothing,” he admits. “I’ve relied on the help of Peter Oakes over at Alberta Flares. He’s helped me a lot with the wheels, and the steering and the brakes.”

Westling has also received a lot of help from Galloway Oilfield Construction, where he works, and from Will’s Welding, which has donated a lot of the steel for the car.

“The rules the organizing committee gives you are really good. You have certain guidelines you have to stay within. From there, it’s just trial and error,” says Westling. “This car has actually changed shape about four times already. You start building part of it, then you find out the seat’s not going to fit, so you cut it apart and try again.”

One of the more important aspects of the soapbox derby is the fact parents and children work together to build the racer. During construction, Carson donned the welding helmet and gloves, and helped his father assemble one of the side support braces.

“I’ve been putting in some stuff, and welding. It was kind of fun,” said Carson. “I’ve also been cutting some metal and drilling.”

By Friday of last week, Westling had most of the soapbox mainframe assembled, complete with a child’s safety seat for added comfort. He was fitting the racer with brakes, after which the soapbox car will receive its outside skin, and of course, a paint job.

Carson has some cool ideas on what he wants to see.

“Black, with skulls and flames.”

So, watch for Carson Westling speeding down the track during race day. He’ll be the one with the ear-to-ear grin, and emitting screams of joy.

Considering these soapbox cars can hit speeds of 30 to 40 mph, Carson’s parents may also be screaming, although it’s unlikely to be in celebration.

All the racing action begins at 9 a.m. Sept. 12 on 42nd Avenue.

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