Local finds success racing in soap box derby

Monday, October 3, 2022
(Photo Contributed) Kenna Coffee sits by her soap box derby car which is decorated in a Spiderman theme. Coffee finished in sixth place in her division at the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby held in Akron, Ohio, this summer.

LE MARS — A local middle schooler has found some success racing. Kenna Coffee of Le Mars competes in soap box derby racing and brought home some hardware from the world championship event.

Coffee brought home a sixth place finish in her division at the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby held in Akron, Ohio, at Derby Downs Track.

“It was exciting,” Coffee said of her experience. “I didn’t think I would place that high.”

It’s a family effort as Kenna’s brother helps her on race days said their mom, Melisa Coffee-Gengler.

“Her brother was her car handler,” Coffee-Gengler said. “He takes her to the top and loads her in the ramps and everything and makes sure the brakes are working good, helps her with the car, helps her get set right in the car.”

Racing has run in the family.

“He raced before she did,” Coffee-Gengler said. “He used to race soap box until he got too big and now he races stock cars. She was a baby when he started racing, so she just kind of grew up into it.”

The All-American Soap Box Derby is a youth gravity racing program which has run nationally since 1934. Children between the ages of 7-20 are eligible to race in the program. Kids, along with a parent or mentor build a car using a specially designed kit purchased from the International Soap Box Derby.

While the cars are made from kits, racers are able to customize them in different ways. Her favorite superhero inspired the design of Coffee’s car.

“It’s decorated like Spiderman. It’s red and black,” Coffee said. “I chose that because I like Spiderman.”

Coffee participated in events throughout the Midwest in order to qualify for nationals.

“She rallied for points which means she went around to racetracks in the area, which there aren’t many. She went to Kansas City and Omaha and won some first places and she had the most points in her class, so she earned the right to go to worlds,” Coffee-Gengler said.

Coffee won all four of her races at Kansas City which helped her accumulate points to qualify for nationals.

There were 44 individuals who advanced to nationals in Coffee’s division of Rally Stock.

Coffee won her opening round heat going up against two individuals in the lanes on either side of her. Her time of 28.482 seconds was good enough to move her to the next round. Facing just one other competitor in the second round, she advanced with a time of 28.573, just 0.022 in front of her competitor.

With that win, she moved on to the final nine of the competition. She finished in a tie for second place in that semifinal heat with a time of 28.591. In the race for the fourth through sixth place spots, Coffee finished in 28.498 as she finished sixth.

Due to her regular season first place wins, she also qualified for the Stock All-Star division where she was able to compete in more races.

Coffee explained that her favorite aspect of the sport is racing itself along with the ability to meet new people.

Racers have to meet certain weight requirements and must stay within their lane with their car, steering and braking while leaned over inside their vehicle, similar to bobsledding, all while traveling at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.

“They get down into the car as low as they can for air resistance,” Coffee-Gengler said. “She can bend in extraordinary ways because she’s down there and just her eyes are sticking out of the car. There’s a steering stick in there and they do have brakes in there.”

She would like to get more people interested in the sport.

“I wish more kids would race so we could have races in Sioux City again,” Coffee said.

There used to be sanctioned races in Sioux City but there haven’t been enough racers in the area to keep it going.

“Kenna’s the only racer from the Sioux City, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa area here,” Coffee-Gengler said. “If we could get numbers back up to race, we could be racing in Sioux City again, too. I’m on the board for the Sioux City track and we’re trying to get people interested. We have cars for kids to try out at the track and everything, but that’s been a struggle.”

Coffee said she is already looking forward to the future.

“I’m going to race as long as I can. I want to go back to worlds and win,” Coffee said. “Then I can win a scholarship. Maybe in the future I will race go-karts or stock cars.”

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