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Girls on Wheels: Remembering the Good Ol’ Soapbox Derby Days!

Posted on Friday, June 4th, 2010.
Sisters Erica and Melissa Fowler had something very specific to discuss when they came to StoryCorps MobileBooth in Dayton for a recording. Although Dayton is known as the birthplace of aviation, it has another important claim to fame: the All-American Soapbox Derby Race. Moreover, Erica is the first girl ever to win the annual Soapbox Derby race on Burkhardt Avenue, in Dayton, Ohio. During their conversation, the sisters relived the historic moment.
Erica Fowler, right, and her sister Melissa

Erica Fowler, right, and her sister Melissa

Erica set the scene in the present tense: “You can smell the popcorn and hear the people yelling” she told Melissa, and they laughed. “Soccer moms have nothing on soapbox parents,” they explained to me.

Erica remembers feeling nervous, even though she had won the previous race. If she lost this one, she could still beat her opponent by the time. The winner was to be decided by the differential. She zoomed down her lane. In the blink of an eye, it was all over. No one yelled or cheered.

“It was dead quiet,” remembered Melissa.

“I was starting to tear up. Oh, wow, this is not good,” Erica remembered thinking as she made her way up the hill waiting for the results. Only when she reached the top and saw her dad’s face could she finally believe it. She won.

Erica, left, and Melissa with the soapbox race car they built with their parents.

Erica, left, and Melissa with the soapbox race car they built with their parents.

Now that Erica is an adult and her wheels are motorized, she still remembers those days. “Every so often when I’m going down the hill (in my car),” she confessed, “I take my foot off the accelerator and I’ll drive the hill like I did back then. I kind of let it coast, and it kind of brings it all back…”

Burkhardt Avenue, present day Dayton

Burkhardt Avenue, present day Dayton, OH.



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