Civil Air Patrol

An Interview with a Soap Box Derby Racer

C/CMSgt David Cox was recently interviewed about his participation last year as the very first driver of the MO Wing Soap Box Derby Car.

How long have you been CAP?
2 years this April.

What interested you in being in CAP?
All the amazing aerospace information, preparation for a career in the Air Force, and just having fun with friends from around the state.

How did you hear about the Soap Box Derby?
Through the Missouri wide Aerospace STEM Academy (ASA) at Ft. Leonard Wood.

What made you interested in participating in the Soap Box Derby?
When this was added to the other activities such as model rocketry and R/C aircraft last year, what intrigued me the most was being able to have hands on learning. Not only were cadets assembling the car, we were all receiving a flood of concepts and ideas presented by the pros who were right there alongside us, teaching us. It was academically enriched with physics, and engineering.

What is the best part about participating in the derby?
That’s kind of hard. What I enjoyed the most was knowing that every one-one thousandth of a second counts, and how to make the slightest adjustments to the car and how it will affect the run. Knowing that allowed me to actually do no driving whatsoever. If the car is even and square to the finest degree then all I have to do is hold the steering wheel and just let the car do it’s thing. Yet, that doesn’t happen very often, which is part of the intrigue after every run, finding the smallest error and fixing it for the next run. And the overall rush of air is really fun at about 20-25 mph.

What was the hardest part?
Aside from all of the fine tune adjustments, being psychologically prepared for each race. When wrecks happen (which is very few) it can disrupt my focus and just overall ability to stay on target. When I crouch into the car it is a slightly unnatural position, so by relaxing before hand and staying lose, means I can be at the optimal speed and just “feel” the car.

If other cadets wanted to participate in the Soap Box Derby, what advice would you give them?
Ask your squadron about it. As of right now Missouri is the only state in CAP to offer it. My dream is for other Cadets to be inspired and continue this new and growing part of CAP, and that it will expand to many other states as well. Soap Box Derby requires plenty of energy, and time. Being physically fit is key to squeezing into the car itself. Even if high thrill isn’t your thing, you can have fun constructing it too. SBD really encompasses many aspects of the topics that you learn in school and compliments it very nicely.

What lessons have you learned from competing?
Resilience. This really hit home after two consecutive crashes. I was racing in the finals for 3rd and 4th place at Columbia. About ¼ of the way down the track my opponent veered off into the center lane and continued to cross into my lane and he collided with my back wheel. This caused a hang up in the cables of his steering so that I was pulling him down the track with me. Because these cars are built for speed, and are won by the fastest time, any part of the car that is on the outside is receiving the force of drag which in turn minutely slows down the overall speed of the car. The braking system is rudimentary. It is a single pedal that is attached to a spring that allows for a 2 inch piece of rubber to scrape the ground. This meant that we collided at high speeds with no way of effectively slowing down. Long story short I had to get back out of the car and race again with same result, another hard crash. If I had not been encouraged by the CAP pit crew I would have probably given up. I am proud to say that I finished in 4th place. This really taught me that when life throws you a curveball or slams you into another car, that it is not over. This can be applied to other aspects of everyday life. Such as school, work, friends, and family. I am thankful that CAP provided this amazing experience and am eager to hear about future stories of cadets and their racing experiences.

How will you use that knowledge to help you in the future competitions?
Taking the knowledge of those crashes and time spent talking with pros, parents, and CAP cadets and senior members, I will continue to race in a separate car so that other cadets can have the opportunity to experience this fantastic and thrilling aerospace activity. I will also be a mentor for cadets who are going to be racing this year.

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