Kodiak kids win at national soap box derby races

Makayla Heckerman prepares to travel the track in the Kodiak Soap Box Derby, a qualifier for the national event in Akron, Ohio. (Mary Heckerman photo)

KODIAK — One hundred and eleven degrees isn’t hot enough to fry bacon — it just feels like it.

On the track at the 74th All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, on Saturday, that’s what Kodiak’s Makayla Heckerman and Ryan Walker saw on the thermometer before taking a 989-foot plunge.

Suspended four inches above the ground in sleek soapbox cars, each beat the heat and the competition as they recovered from early defeats to rank among the world’s best in the international-class races.

“It was really fun and really hot,” said 13-year-old Heckerman, who won the super stock class of the international division. Walker finished second in the stock class of the same division, which uses a slightly smaller car.

The stock division is open to boys and girls 8-13 years old, and the super stock class is open to kids 10-17 years old.

Each Kodiak racer had to qualify for the national competition in a hometown race, then was boosted to Akron with funding help from the Kodiak Lions Club.

“People don’t realize how much gets done by the Lions Club behind the scenes,” club president Judi Kidder said.

At Akron, cars race in threes, released down the track by an automatic switch. The national competition takes most of the day, as American kids vie against each other. Only the winner of each heat moves on to the next round of competition. Heckerman and Walker lost their first race, but unlike most of the other competitiors, they had another chance.

In recognition of their long trip from Kodiak, they were selected to represent the United States in the international rounds of competition.

“The Kodiak people pretty much don’t get close to place in the nationals,” Heckerman said, “so the kids from Kodiak get to race in the international.”

In the international competition, Heckerman raced against “one from Norway, one from Japan, a couple from Canada,” she said.

After winning the first round, Heckerman found herself racing in the final against another girl named Makayla, spelled exactly the same, only from Canada.

“You just get down real low, and there are some methods to the lane, but you just have to figure them out yourself when you go down,” she said, explaining her strategy.

She evidently figured correctly, as she crossed the finish line first, winning a trophy and a handful of photos, autographs and other prizes.

Even in the glow of victory, she already has her eyes on the next goal: keeping soap box derby racing alive in Kodiak.

“As long as I can get more people involved with soap box derby, we can keep doing it,” she said.

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiak

Correction: The original edition of this story reported the national race was held in Dayton, Ohio. It was held in Akron.

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