Almost 20 Cub Scouts from Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes competed in an age-old tradition in Plaquemine, the running of the soapbox derby from the top of the levee down to the road that runs alongside the Plaquemine Locks.
First-time organizer Chris Cavanaugh said the event has likely been going on longer that advertised – the official title this year was the 71st Annual Cub Scout Soapbox Derby – but no one seems to know for sure.
“I do know that it’s always been affiliated with the Cub Scouts,” he said. “They’ve always hosted it.”
The 19 scouts who competed this year had to abide by a strict set of rules. Two are likely the most important – the combined weight of the driver and the car and the official wheels that must be used.
The scout and the car combined can not weigh over 201 pounds, Cavanaugh said, so a 30-pound scout’s racer can be no heavier than 171 pounds.
Making the soapbox derby fun even for those who don’t win is that the way it’s set up, each scout gets to race at least six times in three heats, Cavanaugh said.
“Each scout will get at least six runs down the hill,” he said. “Even a scout who loses every heat will get to run down the hill at least six times.”
With each heat, drivers are assigned a set of official wheels – approved by the Cub Scouts – and a lane, Cavanaugh said. They immediately are re-matched, but have to trade wheels and lanes for the second race.
An optical sensor at the bottom of the race course logs the difference in times between when the first driver crosses the finish line and the second and judges use the average of the two races in each heat.
“Whoever has the better, shorter average time is the winner of each heat,” Cavanaugh said.
“Over the years, the race has been refined to the highest level of fairness that we can attain,” he continued. “…It’s all set up to be as air as possible and takes away any chance of someone having an advantage.”
While the race cars have changed a lot since the beginning of the Plaquemine derby, “now about every car looks identical in shape and design,” but each is distinctively painted to reflect the driver’s personality.
Cavanaugh said the cars are steered by cables and foot pedal brakes are used to stop the vehicles after the races.
He said the race is supported by the City of Plaquemine, the Plaquemine Police Department and the Friends of the Lock.