Transcript for Tyler Gallagher and Jeff Iula on the Soap Box Derby


Jim Fleming: The Soap Box Derby started back in 1933 and since then over a million kids have participated. Jeff Lula is the derby General Manager. Fifteen year old Tyler Gallagher is the 2005 All-American Soap Box Derby Superstock World Champion...

Tyler Gallagher: I was just glad to even get to the final race, you know, cause the year before that I got knocked out the first round so I just wanted to get past a couple rounds and from there on, we were hoping the best. But we weren’t expecting to win, I can tell you that right now.

Fleming: How fast did you have to go to win?

Gallagher: We were around 35 miles an hour going down the hill.

Fleming: Wow! Tell me about your car. Can you describe it for me?

Gallagher: I run the super stock car and it had a scenery of castles and background of rocks. Pointy rocks. There’s a couple castles, a couple bridges, and I had a dragon on the front a dragon on the back. The one on the front was red and the one on the back was green.

Fleming: Jeff, you’re the Soap Box Derby General Manager, right?

Jeff Lula: Correct, yep.

Fleming: Tell me how this thing got started.

Lula: The Soap Box Derby actually got started in Dayton, Ohio. Wasn’t even in Akron (Ohio). Back in 1933 a man named Myron Scott, he was a photographer for the Dayton Daily News, and he saw these five kids going down the hill in these little homemade cars and he thought, ‘Man, that’s a great idea’. So, he went and convinced his publisher to give him a couple hundred bucks and he ran a citywide race that summer. Had over 260 kids in the race. And, by the way, they thought it was all boys until they were giving out the prizes and the second prize was a boys bicycle and this little girl named Alice Johnson took off her hat and received the boys bike! And that year there was actually three girls in that race. But it was the last time girls raced again until 1971.

The next year, he convinced Chevrolet to run a national race, and in ‘34 we had our first All-American. And that was also in Dayton, and then they moved to Akron in ‘35 and it’s been there ever since.

Fleming: Is this straight elimination, every kid makes their own car? What kind of rules are there to how you get into the race?

Lula: There’s a lot of rules today because we want to make sure that everybody is as equal as possible. And, of course, we have specifics. We want to make sure that it’s not too long, not too heavy, the steering is just right, that the break works ok. Safety is a lot of it, too. These kids, like Tyler said, are going down the hill at 30 or 35 miles an hour and they’re only 8 to 17 years old, so you know, you want to be sure everything is very safe. Rules are for, really, two reasons. One is to gain an unfair advantage, and the other is safety. So we make sure that one of those two... it fits in there with all the rules.

Fleming: I was thinking about that 35 miles an hour, Tyler, and thinking it doesn’t sound all that fast in these days of NASCAR and all of the racers, but you’re down...what...six or eight inches off the ground going 35 miles an hour down a hill.

Gallagher: 3 inches.

Fleming: 3 inches?

Gallagher: 3 inches.

Fleming: 3 inches off the ground. Boy! 35 miles an hour must seem really, really fast!

Gallagher: Sometimes it’s almost scary to think about it, so you pretty much try not to think about it when you’re going down the hill and focus on the race.

Fleming: When did you get into this? When did you start racing?

Gallagher: About 5 years ago, in 2002. My sister raced in 2002. She went to the All-American in Super Stock and she placed fourth in the world. That’s how I kinda got started getting more involved and more involved in it. And here I am today.

Fleming: So you knew something about the history of the race when you started in it?

Gallagher: Kinda, not really. My dad always wanted to do it, he just never had the time or quite not enough money to do it. But, we saw a little ad in the paper and it said a little clinic that was going on in Akron and we stopped by and checked it out and we got interested in there and went on from that.

Fleming: Wow. Tyler, you said your dad wanted to do it and never could. Has he been involved with you in making this car?

Gallagher: Oh, most definitely. He’s probably put more time and effort than all of us put together in the whole family. He spends countless nights down at the shop. School nights we usually go to bed around 9:30 but he’s down there till 11 o’clock, almost 12 o’clock at night just trying to work on these cars. Trying to fine tune them for the races.

Fleming: Do you see yourself, 15 years from now, down in the basement working on a Soap Box Derby car helping some other kid win?

Gallagher: Yeah, probably, maybe my children. I’d get them involved in the Soap Box Derby. You know, I kinda cherish the moment and maybe want them to have the same thing. So, yeah, maybe in the future I might get my kids involved.

Fleming: Jeff, there’s so many things to take the time of kids these days. Computers and video games and all of that. But the Soap Box Derby, you see, as being around forever?

Lula: Well, we sure hope so. You know, this is the 69th running we’re having this week at Derby Downs. That’s pretty good; the only two car races longer than us are Pikes Peak in Colorado and that big race they run over in Indianapolis. So, you know, it’s not bad to be the third longest racing event. But, we’ve changed things to try to adapt to kids of the 21st century here, you know. One of the things that I say is that they don’t have the three T’s: the time, the talent or the tools today that they had back in, say, the 60’s or the 70’s. So we’ve made it a lot easier. It only takes 4-6 hours to build a car; that’s the time element. They don’t have nearly the tools that their dads had, but it doesn’t take many tools. Ask Tyler, it only took four or five tools. Maybe an electric screwdriver is about the only electric tool that he needs. And then they don’t really have quite the talent that they had in the previous generation. But, it doesn’t take as much talent. It takes more talent in the driving. That’s why Tyler won the race. His car was similar to everybody else's, but he out drove them all. That’s how he won his $5,000 scholarship. So, it doesn’t matter who’s helping him. It’s who’s driving the car.

Fleming: So, Tyler, you’ve been driving this car and Jeff just said that it’s your driving ability that won that race for you. Do you think you can carry that over to getting a drivers license?

Gallagher: Actually, ever since I’ve been six I’ve been driving real cars at my dad’s work. We’re self employed; we own a mulch business. I drive the trucks around the yard and stuff and about 3 years ago I started driving semi’s. I drive them around the yard. So, yeah, it’ll carry over a little bit.

Fleming: You’re fairly confident you’re going to pass that drivers license the first time?

Gallagher: I think so. My mom wasn’t too sure that I was going to pass my temporary permit license, but I showed her.

Fleming: (Chuckling) Tyler Gallagher is the All-American Soap Box Derby’s 2005 Super Stock World Champion. Jeff Lula is the Derby General Manager.

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