One little racer stretches out his legs, testing the breaks on his soapbox car on Sunday. “You ready?” Chuck Aubry checks in with the boy, who sports a home-designed Pokémon helmet, then leans in and whispers something in the boy’s ear.
“I told him to go as straight as possible, that’s how you go fastest.” This kind of racing runs in the president of the Dorval Soapbox Derby’s blood. His father, Jean-Guy Aubry, founded the race, originally an Optimist Club initiative, with Pierre Boyer 37 years ago. Chuck and his sister, Suzanne, would build soapbox cars with their father to race around the region.
Today, Suzanne’s two sons, 22-year-old Cedric and 19-year-old Gabe, volunteer at the derby each year.
“I hope I can take it over some day,” said Gabe, while his brother logged racing times on a sheet. The 19 soapbox cars, sponsored by merchants of the Dorval Main Streets, can travel up to 35-kilometres an hour—something that can be scary for a first-timer.
“Some of the kids come and register, but when they get to the top they get scared and don’t,” Jean-Guy explained.
About 50 seven and eight-year-olds and 9-to-12-year-olds race in two categories on Fenelon Blvd., in Dorval, a street that’s perfect for soapbox racing because of a natural slope.
“I was scared . . . I was petrified,” Suzanne remembered of her first time racing when she was 10-years-old. She was also one of the only girls competing at the time. “It was weird but you make a place for yourself and have fun.” Today, the Dorval derby is almost fifty-fifty boys and girls.
At its inception, Jean-Guy Aubry and Pierre Boyer wanted to start something that brings families and community together, and the stands of watchful parents on Sunday are a testament to the success of their initiative.
Soapbox cars were originally built by parent and child, something that Jean-Guy would do with his children. He has built four racers with Suzanne and Chuck. Chuck’s favourite car, named Charlie’s Angels, was eventually stolen years ago. “I wanted to keep it and make a go-Kart out of it,” he recalled.
Today, the cars are owned by the derby where they receive regular maintenance, and everyone involved agreed it’s much safer that way.
One of Suzanne’s fondest memories of racing isn’t going down at top speed or winning trophies, but the woman who was at the finish line waiting for her.
“My mom would always wait there to see if I was okay,” she recalled.
An artist, Gerry Aubry would paint designs on the soapboxes. Five years ago Gerry’s Cup, a contest for the most creative helmet design, was inaugurated in honour of her passing.
There are also first, second and third places for best time (the times are recorded by police officers using radar speed guns), but every participant gets a medal at the end of the day.