TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
“Call in the pit crew,” Sgt. Maj. Matthew B. Brookshire, Combat Center sergeant major, advised as the boy’s dad, Staff Sgt. Joel Brase, and several ASYMCA volunteers quickly reattached the errant part to the miniature replica of a desert camouflaged tank.
Catastrophe averted, the 7-year-old and three pint-sized rivals barreled down Donnell Hill in downtown Twentynine Palms the second Brookshire blasted an air horn signaling the start of the race.
For two hours, 53 racers ages 5 to 14 piloted their handmade, one-of-a-kind soapbox cars downhill at varying speeds during the annual event held in conjunction with the Twentynine Palms Chamber of Commerce’s annual Street Fair & Car Show.
“This is a great community event. I want to thank all the families for coming out … I wish you all luck,” Brookshire told the crowd during opening ceremonies, asking everyone to “Keep those forward-deployed in your thoughts and prayers.”
Twentynine Palms Mayor John Cole echoed those sentiments, adding, “As we join these two segments of Twentynine Palms, it’s always exciting.”
“Its nice to see the families having a good time,” Brookshire said as he walked down the hill after his official race duties were over. “It’s amazing all the work they put into these cars.”
Brookshire also was on hand to select the General’s Choice Award recipient on behalf of Combat Center commanding general, Brig. Gen. George W. Smith, choosing 8-year-old Elijah Arzola’s USMC Willy’s Jeep racecar for the honor.
Cole’s Mayor’s Choice Award went to Nathan Pratt’s Sharkmobile and the ASYMCA Chairman Dominic Westfall’s Chairman’s Choice Award went to Brock Loechler’s Super Mario car.
Loechler’s dad, Master Gunnery Sgt. Brent Loechler of the Combat Center’s Explosive Ordnance Division, said it was his son’s first Soapbox Derby, but not his last.
“It was a really good experience,” he said. “YMCA did a really good job.”
Each time racers passed the finish line, one of the more than 100 Marines and sailors who volunteered to work the event pushed more cars back up the hill, undaunted by the 100-degree weather.
Pfc. William Louis, who was on his eighth trip up the hill without breaking a sweat, said he volunteered to work the race after seeing an ASYMCA flier.
“It feels good to help out the kids,” said the 19-year-old Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School student from Florida. “It’s nice to give back.”
After the races, the crowd gathered around the awards tent, talking shop and comparing notes while Fisher and volunteer Robin Crooms tallied the results.
“The racers did awesome,” Fisher said as the crowd cheered loudly. Fisher announced each racer by name so they could come forward to accept their medals, trophies, snack packs and souvenir water bags. Armed Services YMCA Executive Director Anita Neu-Fultz passed them out.
“I need more hands,” the executive director joked as the excited kids lined up behind her. Every child who participated received a medal.
Neu-Fultz, who has cheered on racers in every ASYMCA Soapbox Derby since 2005, said the event couldn’t happen without the volunteers and the sponsors.
“It’s just a fun time,” she said. “The volunteers are phenomenal. They set up, root on the children and do the inspections. Without them, we couldn’t do it.”