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Siblings Brandon and Brittany Sorli almost didn’t have a choice.
Their stepfather, Joe Tomasello, comes from a line of Soap Box Derby racers — he and his sisters, Tara and Diana, all raced. And their dad, Ken Tomasello did too, introduced to it by his father, John.
So when the idea of joining in on the family pastime was mentioned, Brittany, then 11, decided to try it.
“My stepdad asked if I wanted to do it,” Brittany remembered and she’s glad she did. “I have made a whole lot of friends, we have family time and it’s a lot of fun.”
Good thing she liked it and even better, was good at it. She was having so much fun that her older brother, Brandon, took it up too.
Now the two will represen t Washington, D.C., in the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, this week on the heels of winning their respective divisions in June at the 71st Greater Washington, D.C., Soap Box Derby.
Brittany, 13, drives in the masters division for kids 10 to 17 who have more experience and race in the prone position, while Brandon drives super stock, for kids 10 to 17 who race in the lean-forward position.
Their kid sister, Aspen Tomasello, 9, who placed second in the local race will participate in the stock division, for kids 7 to 13.
Little brothers, Kenny, 5, and Lincoln, 3, still are too young to drive derby cars, but it’ll be no time before Lindy Tomasello’s five kids are all involved at once.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Once your family gets into it, you just love it,” she said. “Everything about soap box racing is about the family.”
Present, pastLocal champions from each of the stock, super stock and masters division Soap Box Derby races around the world come to Akron each July to compete for scholarships and prizes in the derby. It is also a week of activities and catching up with friends on the circuit.
The kids will be reunited with their cars that Joe transported to Akron a couple of weeks ago.
The derby cars undergo a strenuous inspection before they are allowed to compete.
They are weighed and inspected to meet all safety regulations, according to the All-American Soap Box Derby website that outlines the sport and competition.
In addition to getting a look at Derby Downs, the 954-foot track designed for the competition, the kids will spend the week trading buttons and catching up on gossip, and on Wednesday they’ll choose the wheels that they’ll use during the events.
The racers are in it to win it, but more than that Lindy Tomasello likes how the sport teaches racers focus and strategic thinking; it instills sportsmanship and respect for each other.
Win or lose, the kids shake hands, congratulate each other and move on to the next event or social gathering.
The Soap Box Derby was started in the 1930s when Dayton Daily News photographer Myron Scott saw three boys racing homemade, motorless cars down a hill.
He thought it was a great idea and a week later initiated a formal race involving 19 drivers who crafted cars from scrap wood and crates atop the wheels of discarded baby carriages and roller skates and whatever else they could rig to sail them down a hill.
Scott persuaded his reluctant editor to promote the race and an American institution was born.
By August 1933, 362 kids competed in a derby that attracted a crowd of 40,000 spectators, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
The following year, The Washington Star in the District sponsored a race with 224 boys signed up to race down New Hampshire Avenue.
Fast timesThis year, derby organizers expect 550 racers from 40 states and foreign countries. After the Ohio event, the Tomasellos will head to Bowling Green, Ky., for the All-American Soap Box Derby World Championships.
There will be a meet around Thanksgiving, but after that, the season will calm down.
Brittany will be an eighth-grader at Theodore G. Davis Middle School and is thinking about taking up volleyball.
Brandon, a sophomore at North Point High School, plays baseball for the school and on a traveling team.
But both think they will stick to derby racing for as long as they can. It can be exciting at times. Derby cars can get up to more than 36 miles an hour.
Once during a heat in Winston-Salem, N.C., Brandon wound up in a rut on the side of the course and couldn’t get out.
And then there was that time Brittany’s brakes gave out.
In the masters car the driver is basically lying on her back with a limited view of the track. Brittany crossed the finish line and just kept going.
“My brake cable came off, I was in the fastest car, laid down,” she explained. “There was a cone, hay bales and boom!”
“She won the heat, though,” Lindy pointed out.