King of the hill
EDGERTON -- Six years ago, Chad Lubben competed in his first-ever Soap Box Derby down Mill Hill in Edgerton on a toilet attached to a platform on wheels and, though he didn't win, he sure had fun.
Lubben has learned a lot about the sport of Soap Box Derby in the years that followed, with a rocket-styled car one year and a boat another. None of those, however, performed as well as his entry this year.
Deciding to take a more stream-lined approach that has proved successful for other derby racers, Lubben took to the roughly quarter-mile race track more aptly known as Pipestone County 1 Saturday afternoon with a camouflaged car made of square steel tubing, flat iron and bicycle tires.
"This year I was going to try to make a wheelchair (derby car), but that didn't work," said Lubben, who placed third in the adult division of the derby. The race was one of many events making up the 63rd annual Dutch Festival.
Though pleased with his third place finish, Lubben said he can do better.
"The weights were supposed to roll to the front, but I haven't had success with it," he said. Rather than make modifications for next year, Lubben said he might just start over with a "whole new car."
Lubben and his twin brother, Cody, along with friend Aaron Spronk, all of Edgerton, worked together to complete three derby cars for this year's race. Spronk took second in the division, and Cody Lubben was knocked out early in the double-elimination contest.
Spronk's design was similar to Chad Lubben's car, also featuring moving weights and a steel platform.
"I did a lot of learning how to weld when we built this," Spronk said. His car, painted orange and purple was named GRP, short for Ground Racing Performance. It even included a small chunk of wood toward the back, labeled "Soap," so he could say it was a true Soap Box derby car.
Taking the top title in the adult division was Kevin Zylstra, who has garnered first place in all but one year he's competed. He was inched out one year and earned second place.
As the oldest competitor, the engineer crafted his derby car for the first race six years ago after doing some Internet research on competitive Soap Box Derby cars.
Seeing that a long, narrow car would be the most successful, he built the car from steel tubing welded with flat bar steel and added 10-speed bicycle tires.
"Hopefully next year my nephew or someone else will ride it," Zylstra said. "It's just kind of fun to see what the other cars are like and what they're doing to be competitive."
Though his car has proven to be a top performer -- from the start of Mill Hill, it will travel all the way to the first stop sign in Edgerton if the brakes aren't applied -- there are always things that can be tweaked. Zylstra said his car should probably be narrower.
"Someone who's thinner would probably do a little better," he said with a laugh. "I'm the oldest, biggest guy here."
After taking first place in the adult division, a just-for-fun face-off was conducted between Zylstra and the champion of the junior division, Brent Hokeness of Rushmore. The Hokeness car was fashioned more like a traditional Soap Box Derby car with the driver seated inside a metal-framed box.
"Me and my dad and my brother made it," Hokeness said of his craft. His older brother had raced it before, but it was the first time this 10-year-old had taken it into competition.
Sand bags were added to the car to improve its performance, and after winning the junior division, Hokeness said he knows one area that needs to be improved upon for next year.
"I need to steer straighter. I need to fix the steering," he said.
Hokeness was one of three competitors in the junior division. Earning second was Joshua Raak, 12, of Jasper, and Andrew Raak, 14, of Jasper.
Joshua Raak, competing for his second year in the derby in a blue plastic barrel on wheels, said the Soap Box Derby is exciting.
"Other people should start doing it so there's more competition," he added.
The fastest cars of the day completed the race in just over 35 seconds.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.