Building our first soap box derby racer – Part 2

Building our first soap box derby racer – Part 2

My oldest son, occasionally daughter, and I had continued to work on the soap box racer last week.

We left off last time with just wheels on a flat body. Another week of work and we added a body of sorts, a seat, and some paint.

We used a seat from IKEA for the racer. It was the perfect size to fit inside the 18″ wide body, and it looked neat. We made the frame for the racer with 2×4’s and plywood Jonas and I cut with a handheld jig saw, and screwed it all together.

Isaac gets his first driving lesson. Here you can see the arched shape we were working towards for the old-timey racer feel.

I then bent, glued, and nailed a 1/8″ thick piece of MDF to the body. Both kids helped with a couple of nails at first, but grew weary of wearing the safety glasses, so they had to watch from a short distance away. Nailers are one of those tools I am extremely careful around. Safety glasses are a must if they’re connected to a pressurized source, I am always aware of where I am pointing the working end trying to always point it at my workpiece, and the safety is turned on as soon as I take my finger off the trigger. I was amazed at the number of nails it took to hold it all in place.

Kids are getting excited. At this point the driving lessons down our street began in earnest.

We took off all non-painted surfaces, and I then went to work spraying it a nice enamel red with a N95 mask on. I am still looking for a decent mask that has solvent filters available. Any recommendations would be appreciated. I think it turned out looking pretty sharp, simple and elegant.

Race day was this past Saturday (June 16, 2012). After we arrived, it didn’t take long before I realized that the racer couldn’t compete. Middlebury Drive in Waterloo is a pretty steep street, a lot steeper than the street we practiced on, and my son was barely strong enough to use the brake on our little street where we had practiced. It also didn’t help that every racer there, save ours, had some sort of rack and pinion steering and our rope steering could be barely operated by my son. I opted to keep him out of the race this year and just observe. Tears were shed, but it was for the best.

Almost forgot to mention, we watched two pretty big crashes during the trial runs, by kids much older than my son. One girl lost control of her steering and rolled on the asphalt; the other boy couldn’t stop in time, hit the wall of tires that was being used as a safety stop, flipped his car and flew out. Both kids didn’t end up competing after their respective crashes, and it kind of sealed the deal on my son not racing that day.

Although Jonas did get a tailgate breakfast out of it, so not all was lost.

A sad little boy in his racer. In some ways I feel I let him down, in others, well, we built a soap box racer together, he’s a lucky kid.

Next year he will compete. I am going to lower the racer to the ground and build two new braking systems, both of which were inspired by other cars in the race. We are also going to make a rack and pinion steering system so that he can steer with a wheel much easier than fighting to pull on the rope. The parents I met on race day were awesome and all had great advice for improving the racer. We has so many parents come up to us and mention that they were following the progress of our racer. We built it in our front yard, so the whole neighborhood developed an attachment to our progress. There will be racing next year.

Building our first soap box derby racer – Part 1

Our neighborhood has a Soap Box Derby on Father’s Day weekend. I’ve always wanted to make a racer, and this provided a convenient excuse to make one. I did all sorts of research on Soap Box Racers, and emailed the neighborhood association for details, and it turns out, it is an unregulated race. Most Soap Box Derby’s are strictly regulated; certain size tires, maximum weight for the vehicle, etc. For this race, there are no limits. After taking a couple trips to gather the parts necessary, my oldest and I decided to assemble it in the shade of our maple tree on a nice day.

I had some spare rope for steering, spare copper pipe nail-downs to hold the axles in place, scrap plywood and 2 x 4’s for the frame, and some spare wood screws to hold it together. Axles, pins, lag bolt, nut, and 4 washers from Home Depot to hold the wheels in place and for steering. Wheels came from KW Surplus. Finding wheels was the most difficult part. You can find all sorts of small, bulky ones for wheel barrows and mowers, but large-diameter, thin ones are hard to come by, fortunately I found some with some searching. All told, took about an hour to assemble with my son’s help.

The lag bolt is for the front axle so it has a pivot point on the frame to steer. The axle is fixed to the 2 x 4 on top of it with copper pipe nail-downs (the kind you use for plumbing copper pipe), and the wheels are held onto the axle with pins (the wheels have bearings in them, making attaching them a lot easier). On top of the steering 2 x 4 I attached two more scrap pieces of 2 x 4 to limit how far you can turn left or right.

Unfortunately, the race is open to Junior Kindergarten kids at the youngest, so my daughter can’t participate for another two years. Doesn’t mean I can’t give her a driving lesson.

We decided to race to test it out. My son wanted to ride his kick-bike, and Grace stuck with me.

I have never ridden a Soap Box Racer before, so here I am discovering how slow they are to get going. My son won the race easily, all he had to do was kick away.

One thing I did forget to install on the initial version was the brake, so I had to quickly figure out how to safely stop the racer without breaking my ankles. I was actually far more worried than I look here.

The race is in a week and a half. We still have to add a brake and make a body for the racer. That is the most fun part. I’m thinking of making the racer look something like this:

I’ll share the results soon.