- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 18, 2005

Michelle Gregos sat in a race car at the top of Capitol Hill yesterday, her opponent the son of a former Soap Box Derby champion.

The 64th annual Greater Washington Soap Box Derby was just the third race for Michelle, 15, who began racing only a month ago. But she wasn’t nervous. After all, she already had beaten Doug Hoover once earlier in the day — plus she had the training expertise of other champs.

As the two raced downhill on Constitution Avenue at 25 mph, Doug’s family and supporters look on excitedly. “I think Dougie’s got her,” one yelled as the two crossed the finish line.

But Michelle would not be denied, as she again nipped Doug by milliseconds and advanced in the double-elimination tournament, which was sponsored by the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association and others.

The two were among 34 youngsters racing on Capitol Hill yesterday, the tourney’s largest field since 1975. Racers between 8 and 17 years old competed in three divisions of stock, super stock and masters.

Each heat consists of two races. To ensure that the only variables are the contestants and their cars, the drivers are required to switch lanes and trade the wheels on their cars’ molded fiberglass shells for the second race. The shells are sold in kits from the derby headquarters in Akron, Ohio, for about $600.

The winner is determined by the time difference between the two races.

Michael DeYoung, 9, of Stevensville, Md., won the stock division; and Robbie Reuss, 15, of Waldorf, Md., won the masters. Michele triumphed in the super-stock division.

The three division winners will compete July 30 in the National Soap Box Derby in Akron.

After her victory against Doug, Michelle exuded a quiet confidence that belied her inexperience.

“I had never heard of it before [competing],” said Michelle, a Silver Spring resident who was eliminated in the first round of her debut race before finishing seventh in a derby in Frederick, Md. “When I started out, I was so lost.”

She was talked into competing by her boyfriend, Johnny Weissgerber, a former Soap Box Derby champ who lives in Silver Spring and taught her the ins and outs of the sport.

Johnny, 15, who was forced into retirement after sprouting to 6-foot-2 and outgrowing the cars, said he suggested competing to Michelle because it brought him out of his shell a few years ago.

“Even if she doesn’t do well, I thought it’d be a good experience,” he said.

Johnny helped train Michelle along with his father, George Weissgerber, 54, who is regional director of the Soap Box Derby.

Mr. Weissgerber has overseen the annual D.C. event since 1999.

“People come back year after year,” said Mr. Weissgerber, who started helping his sons build cars in 1994. “It gets in your blood.”

Mr. Weissgerber and Johnny both say Michelle has been a quick study. Both Weissgerbers said girls tend to be more “gentle” and steady behind the wheel, giving them an advantage over their aggressive-driving male counterparts.

“Hitting a cone or the slightest swerve can slow you down, and these races are determined by a fraction of a second,” Mr. Weissgerber said.

“It’s a finesse thing, a very sensitive sport,” he said. “The cars are very sensitive, so tightening or loosening a bolt can also slow you down.”

Michelle said that, while she enjoys racing and may stick with it, it’s all about fun.

“I’m in it for the experience,” she said. “But if I win, that’s great.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide