How to Plan a Soapbox Derby

By Elyse James ; Updated April 12, 2017
Provide the winners of your event with trophies or prizes.

The first soap box derby can be traced back to its humble beginnings in the 1930s when children of Dayton, Ohio built their own cars and raced them down hills in their community, using only gravity to move the cars down the hill. When Dayton reporter Myron Scott witnessed one of these races, he thought that this activity should be enjoyed by other children and began to promote soap box derbies across the United States. Soap box derbies are still a popular activity decades later. If you would like to host a soap box derby for the children (or even adults) in your community, the event must be planned well in advance to guarantee its success. This type of event requires applicants to build their own nonpowered car, which they must have time to build and test drive, since each applicant must drive his own car down the hill on race day.

Decide on the theme of your soap box derby, the date it will occur, where it will be held and any other details that will help you plan the event.

Contact the city and make sure you follow all regulations in regard to your event. Since soap box derbies need access to a clear, downhill street, you will likely have to file for a special permit to block off the road. Be sure you have all legalities cleared up with the city before you continue planning the event.

Select a committee of volunteers who are willing to help you organize the event. A soap box derby is quite a large event to host by yourself — especially if you get a lot of participants. Enlist a group of people to help you with various aspects of the event planning, and give each person a job to complete.

Enlist your committee to help you come up with a list of rules and an application form for participants. Some potential rules to consider include a list of the materials applicants can use to build their cars, age restrictions on applicants, and rules concerning the dimensions of the cars themselves. Your committee should also draft waiver forms that each applicant must sign in case of accidental injury.

Give the hill a dry run with a car similar to those the applicants will be driving. A dry run will help determine if the location chosen is suitable and provides enough distance at the end of the hill for applicants to stop safely.

Contact local businesses and ask them to donate prizes to the event. It is common for participants to compete for prizes such as college scholarships, cash or other awards when competing in a soap box derby. The better prizes you can offer participants, the more likely your event will be successful.

Advertise your event as much as possible in the local community newspaper, in fliers, on the radio and any other advertising outlet you can think of. The more exposure your event has, the more people are likely to attend it. Be sure to advertise prizes that are being offered to draw people’s attention. A soap box derby is traditionally a community event, so enlist the help of community media outlets to cover the event.

Create a website that offers all the information about the event including participant application forms. Provide the applicants with sufficient time to submit their applications and build their cars.

About the Author

Elyse James began writing professionally in 2006 after deciding to pursue a career in journalism. She has written for "The Algonquin Times" as a general assignment reporter and published blogs and articles on Webcitybeat. James holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Ottawa.