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Posted February 28, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

Drive to succeed: Families work together on soap box cars, have fun win or lose

William “Biff” Genda, left, and his children Cammie, 17, Ben, 15, Jacob, 13, and Craig, 10, stand with a soap box car they kept from a prior race at the Winchester Soap Box Derby. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Soap Box car
Jacob tests the seating in one of the family’s soap box cars. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Genda helps Jacob, middle, and Ben align the wheels on a car frame. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Genda and Jacob work on the car. Dennis Grundman/Daily

By Josette Keelor -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER -- The Genda family has participated in the Winchester Soap Box Derby for years and has no plans to quit any time soon.

"We have three racing this year, and next year I think we'll have five," says William "Biff" Genda, of Berryville, whose nine children have all participated in one form or another, whether by racing or by helping each other build their cars. He expects that the children he and his wife are in the process of adopting from Ethiopia will want to participate next year.

The derby began in Winchester in 1946 but lasted only four more years before going on hiatus for more than half a century. Now in the sixth year since its reincarnation, the derby is gearing up for another season.

This year's derby will take place on May 23, earlier in the season than it was in previous years. According to race director Mike Wines, the date of the race was moved up to prevent a conflict with school graduation ceremonies.

Children ages 8-17 are eligible to participate, if they have not previously won in the same race.

Chris Patton, 11, of Winchester, is a two-time winner at the Winchester Soap Box Derby, winning the stock race in 2007 and the super stock last year.

"It was great," he says. "It was especially fun getting to go back to Akron."

He participated in the International Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, both years but did not bring home a trophy. Having won both events in Winchester, he is ineligible to race again, but, because of his love of the event, he has signed up to help out this year.

"I just liked building [the car] with my dad and my brother," he says. His older brother raced for two years but is now too tall to participate, standing at 6 feet, 1 inch, though he is only 14.

The Web site for the derby, www.winchestersoapbox.com, does not specify a height limit, but it lists other criteria, including age limits for the stock and super stock races. Children who will be 8 years old as of race day or who will be under the age of 18 before June 25, this year's date of the international finals, are eligible, the site says. The national and international finals are combined into one event each year in Akron.

In his first year serving as director, Wines is already on top of planning, having begun signing up participants and volunteers months in advance.

"My son raced in it," he says, adding that both had such a good time, they are returning this year.

"I wanted to continue the fun; it's a lot of fun," Wines says. His son, Manny Wines, 10, will return for the second time to race in the derby.

Genda also has encouraged his children to race, having participated in soap box derbies from 1969-1971 when he lived in Akron. His father was a soap box racer as well.

Craig, Jacob and Ben Genda also will race this year. Jacob, 13, won the stock race last year, so he will participate in the super stock this time.

"I really liked it," he says of winning. "I was so happy because before I was so horrible." Once, he says, he almost crashed into a police officer and another time hit a bale of hay. The derby now uses wooden rails, Jacob says, instead of hay bales along the race route.

He is unsure of how he was able to improve to a win last year other than that he was a year older and had another racing experience under his belt. Or maybe it's the Genda genes.

His sister Cammie, 17, won the super stock in 2004 and the Masters division race in Frederick, Md., last year. Both siblings raced in Akron last year, but so far the family has not brought home an international win.

"It's a worldwide competition," Cammie says, explaining that the opposition is tough to beat. "I was in the top third. I got to the top third because I won my first round." It came down to the last moment, when her car hit a puddle. In a race in which every second is crucial, the obstacle was enough to steal away the win.

"It was a bummer," she says, but she accepts the need to be prepared for natural occurrences getting in the way.

"I'll volunteer on race day," she says, still planning to root for her family.

Now more confident in his racing abilities, Jacob says his strategy for winning the super stock this year is just to "get down low and go straight and build my car right." A $1,000 prize to help pay his way back to Akron and a trophy are also incentives.

"Each year they get bigger," he says of the trophies.

The main goal, however, is to just have a good time and spend the day with loved ones.

"I'd say that it's really fun and especially building the car with your family ... and just keep on racing," Chris says.

The Winchester Soap Box Derby will take place on May 23 on South Cameron Street, just north of Leicester Street, and will finish at Cork Street. Those interested in participating or in volunteering are asked to call Mike Wines at 664-6288. Volunteers are much needed. A meeting and car clinic will take place on March 11 at Jim Stutzman Chevrolet beginning at 6:30 p.m. Racers, volunteers, sponsors and anyone else interested are encouraged to attend.

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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