- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

OGALLALA, Neb. (AP) - Johanna Vedder likes the speed of flying down a steep, straight track, barely able to see above the top of her soapbox derby super stock car.

She enjoys it so much, in fact, that she has competed at the Wild West Soap Box Derby races in Ogallala for almost six years and has trophies upon trophies from across the region and United States.

“I like how it’s competitive,” Johanna said. “It teaches you how to win and lose.”

Johanna is 13 years old. Her 7-year-old brother, Blake, competed in his first derby on April 25. For the Vedders, the sport is a family bonding event, The North Platte Telegraph (https://bit.ly/1bHk2t3 ) reported.

During the summer, they’ll make weekends out of races, going to camp at Lake McConaughy. Jeremy Vedder enjoys working on the car with his daughter, playing with the weights and steering to make it faster within the weight limits. His two sons like to tear things apart and his youngest daughter likes to make everything look perfect for a race. The derby association really preaches family involvement, he said.

There are three divisions for soap box derbies. Stock is for children ages 7-13 years old who are shorter than 5 feet, 3 inches and weigh less than 125 pounds. Children 9-17 who are up to 6 feet tall and 150 pounds can compete in super stock. The masters division is for the most experienced drivers, ages 10-17 and up to 6 tall and 160 pounds.

Johanna is now in the super stock division. Jeremy custom painted Johanna’s car to look like a flaming fuselage riddled with bullet holes. They get a lot of compliments.

Jeremy used to work at Twin Rivers Body Shop. His boss there actually helped direct the North Platte derby program, which hosted races on the Jeffers Street viaduct and was popular during the 1990s. One of Johanna’s first races, Jeremy said, was one of the last in North Platte.

“It’s a sport that is kind of shrinking,” he said. “There’s so much parent involvement.”

There can be a lot of travel back and forth to Ogallala for practices and races or elsewhere in the state. In 2012, Johanna competed in Akron, Ohio, at the Soapbox Derby World Championships. She was sponsored at that time by Northwestern Energy, one of the partners with the Wild West Soap Box Derby. Northwestern Energy also purchased her first stock car. The sponsored cars help keep costs down for families just getting started. A new kit for a stock or super stock car can run upward of $400, Jeremy said.

But like anything, he said if the car is taken care of and kept inside, it will last for a long time. Blake, for example, is using that first Northwestern Energy stock car to begin racing himself.

“It used to be back in the day, you would build with whatever you could find,” Jeremy said.

The rules and regulations have since changed to even out competition.

Jeremy said a lot of the participants in Ogallala are girls. For the past few years, youngsters qualifying for the world championships from Ogallala have been girls. Girls make the best drivers, he said.

Jeremy was worried when Johanna first got started, concerned a speeding car that can reach up to 30 mph on the Ogallala track would wreck. But she stayed straight the first race and after several years, she began winning them.

“Whether you win or lose, it’s always fun,” Johanna said.


Information from: The North Platte Telegraph, https://www.nptelegraph.com

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