By Ted Waddell
WHITE LAKE July 16, 2002 Ten-year-old Marc Takourian has a need for speed.
After the Duggan School fourth grader started winning local Pinewood Derbys, the young speed racer set his sights on competing in the All-American Soap Box Derby. And perhaps a couple of miles down the road, making it to the big leagues on the NASCAR circuit.
In 1999-2001, Takourian took the checkered flag three years in a row at the Town of Bethel Pinewood Derby as a representative of Cub Scout Pack #86. This year, he picked up the Boy Scouts of America Nav-a-Len District first place award as his little wooden race car was the fastest in the county.
Pinewood Derby racers are carved from single blocks of wood, fitted with a set of wheels and can't weigh more than five ounces. gravity propels them down a 30-foot track to the finish line.
Last year, the Takourian family traveled to Florida to watch the Daytona 500. The race is NASCAR at its finest, as the best in the business mix it up in wheel-to-wheel, heart-pounding action at more than 180 miles per hour.
After the Daytona 500, Takourian built a proto-type soap box derby car from a couple of 2 x 4s, a set of wheels off an old baby carriage and a seat purchased at Wal-Mart with his Christmas money.
Then it was off down the steep roads by his folks' home overlooking White Lake before school, with his younger brother hanging on for dear life.
"They were late to school a few times, said the boys' father, Gary, a mechanical engineer by trade. "They'd come racing around the corner and shatter my nerves."
And Marc Takourian was hooked. He put his little wooden racers up on the trophy shelf and, with the help of his father and six-year-old brother, started to build a Soap Box Derby racer.
As the car took shape in the family garage a space packed with the youngster's inventions like a homemade drafting table, a little boat and a drum set created from plastic dishes and an upsidedown Coke can to number his racer "007," "Because I've seen so many James Bond movies," he explained.
A few weeks ago, several dozen boys and girls battled it out during three practice sessions held in Port Jervis.
Takourian made it to the regional finals on Essex Street in Port Jervis on Sunday, June 9, but disaster struck, derailing him from a chance to make it to the NASCAR-sponsored All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio.
In the second race of the day, Takourian was going down the steep hill and the steering suddenly failed.
"I didn't even think about the brakes and slammed into a pole," he said.
The accident bent the right axle and cracked two wheels. After a frantic search for parts, the car was rebuilt by his father and a race technician.
Of the six races of the afternoon, Takourian won four and lost two. Not bad for a batting average, but not enough to make it to Akron at least for this year.
The All-American Soap Box Derby got it start when a photographer from the Dayton Daily News was crossing a street one day and was nearly run down by young boys speeding downhill on strange homemade wagons.
Photographer Myron E. Scott was so impressed by the lads' creativity and energy that he got his paper to spearhead efforts to establish a national race of cars built of soap boxes. The first soap box derby was held in 1934 in Dayton, Ohio. The following year, the race moved to the hilly terrain of Akron and in 1936 a permanent track site was constructed.
Maurice Bales, 13, of Anderson, Ind., won the first national Soap Box Derby in 1935. A year later, Edmund Richardson Jr. of Royal Oak, Michigan, the 1936 Detroit Daily News champion, built his racer entirely out of discarded materials: an old metal sign was hammered into the body of the car, wheels were turned out of orange crate boards and hub caps from tin cans.
Girls were not allowed to compete in Soap Box Derbys until 1971, but since then have become a force to reckon with. In 1975, Karen Snead, an 11-year-old from Morrisville, Pa., became the first girl to win the All-American Soap Box Derby in a photo-finish victory.
In 1973, scandal rocked the derby when it was discovered the winning car had electromagnets embedded in its fiberglass body. A decline in the derby's popularity and sponsorships soon followed, but in the 1990s the All-American Soap Box Derby began to get back on track.
Asked what it's like to watch her son speed down a steep hill in search of the checkered flag and a silver trophy, Monica Takourian said, "It's really exciting to see him race, because he really loves it."
"As he gets older, I hope he's going to take it right up to the top. . . maybe make it as far as NASCAR," she added.
Are the Takourians big NASCAR fans?
"Tony Stewart, #20, that's us!" said Monica Takourian.
Looking ahead to building a new All-American Soap Box Derby racer in 2003, Mark Takourian said of his need for speed, "I like racing because it's a lot of fun. There's always next year and another race."