MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
It was 5-year-old Wesley Fontecchio’s first race. The day before, he had spun out during practice, but today was his day, and his only worry was going too fast. He strapped on his helmet, settled into his Spiderman race car and rolled up to the starting line. Fontecchio’s opponent looked confident in her pink race car and matching helmet. Their eyes met then focused on the finish line. The horn blew and they were off.
The annual Street Fair and Car Show, and Soap Box Derby were held at Luckie Park, May 3, 3014.
The soap box derby was hosted by the Armed Services YMCA and sponsored by local businesses.
“We solicit local businesses for the racer,” said Laura Scotto, special events and volunteer coordinator, ASYMCA. “These [soap-box kits] are expensive. The sponsors provide the supply wood and the soapbox kits so the families don’t have to worry about that. They just get the materials and build their cars.”
Just like their NASCAR counterparts, each race car advertised a supporting player from the community. The rest of the designs were left up to the racers.
The children modified their race cars to their preference. There was the Zombie Killer 2, with fake rockets at its sides and a machine gun in the front, the Batmobile, donning a bat-a-rang steering wheel, and even a burger on wheels, extra cheese but hold the pickles.
The creativity of the designs created a spectacle that attracted the eyes of spectators lining the streets, but it was the races that kept them watching.
More than 50 children from the Combat Center and local community entered this year’s competition. The races were split up into 4 divisions separating age and experience levels.
“We have four divisions,” Scotto said. “Stock, which is first-time racers, and super stock, which is for [those who] have raced before. Within those two categories there are [5 to 8-year-olds] and [9 to 14-year-olds].”
Although there were trophies, the derby was more about fun than winning. The racers grinned from ear to ear whether they were in the lead or falling behind.
After their races, the soap box competitors rolled down the hill to the Twentynine Palms Chamber of Commerce Street Fair and Car Show, where their cars would be displayed alongside the shining automotive marvels lining Luckie Street.
The event showcased cars and motorcycles, new and old. Service members and community members entered vehicles ranging from vintage ’40s Chevys to souped-up Ford Mustangs and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
In addition to automotive display, the Combat Center contributed multiple static displays. Combat Center units provided a variety of static displays to include tactical vehicles, like a Light Armored Vehicle, Humvee, and medium tactical vehicle replacement.
Children and adults explored the armored vehicles inside and out.
“A lot of them ask what kind of rounds they shoot, if its cramped inside or how many people can fit inside,” said Cpl. Jeff Turner, gunner, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. “They love [going inside]; they think it’s the coolest thing in the world.”
In front of the vehicles, three sets of flaks and Kevlars were propped up, ready for any willing spectators to try them on.
“They say that they think it’s fine, but on their faces you can see that little expression, like, ‘wow, its heavier than I thought it would be,’” Turner said.
Down the road, Marines with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit had a booth set up for patrons of the event to visit. They brought with them a bomb suit and their improvised explosive device-defusing robot, known as TALON.
The Marines help place the suit on volunteers and had them walk 100-meters out into the grass to understand the mobility they have while wearing the suit and children were also allowed to control TALON from a booth.
Across from the EOD booth, a ceremony was held to present the awards to the winners of the Soap Box Derby. Fontecchio sat in his car holding his first-place trophy. He had won both his races during his first derby.
“I won because I was fast,” Fontecchio said. “I want to go again next year.”