The Billericay Soap Box Derby

Lets face it; motorsport in the UK is in troubled times. Up and down the country tracks are having to adhere to strict noise regulations which is strangling a lot of the series featuring higher powered cars or cars with shorter exhaust systems. It is also becoming more and more difficult to race prepare a car that you can drive too and from the track as the safety regulations of the majority of series require the removal of airbags and the factory seat belts. all of which are plugged into sensors which show a light on the dashboard when disconnected which makes the legitimacy of a valid MOT somewhat questionable. Insurance is astronomical for young drivers in track ready cars and towing can be a bit of a grey area due to complicated laws, as well as the high insurance prices of anything with enough guts and weight to pull another car on a trailer.

Logistically units and workshops to keep ones car and trailer are becoming more and more difficult to find at a sensible price as well due to the ever increasing price of land. Especially in an area like Billericay which is situated on the train line to London Liverpool Street and has access to the A127 in London making travel from here to the city super simple. The land and property here is highly desirable!

This is why I think that these ‘soapbox derbies’ are such a wonderful idea. For those of you unaware a ‘soapbox’ is a sort of gravity powered cart. The majority of those at the Billericay derby were constructed of a ladder style steel chassis, like what one would find on a pre-war car, with a wooden body. The wheels are often sourced from prams and the brakes from a bicycle. Steering appeared to be mostly accomplished by basic rack and pinion. The soapboxes are tiny in size, they can be taken to the track in the back of a small van or estate car or even tied to the roof racks of a hatchback or saloon car. You could build one in your shed using about £60 of materials and some basic tools. Affordable for everyone and you don’t even need a driving licence, much less a race licence to drive one!

Since the soapboxes make no noise it means that the races can be held on any street (with a hill) right in the middle of town. The track for the Billericay derby was situated right in the centre of the town on a road that runs along side the Sun Corner park which acted as an ‘open pit’ and a sort of trade fair for the day. This meant that the entire town could get involved and they massed on the park in their hundreds! One could walk to the track and not have to drive miles out into the country like what you have to do with real motorsport.

The track itself sat on a long straight road flanked by inflatable barriers which the crowd stood behind. The ‘cars’ launched from a steep wooden ramp and had to navigate their way through hay bales and over jumps to the finish line at the bottom of the hill.
DSC_0485DSC_0487

The quality of the cars was much higher than I anticipated! There were some really unique and fun ideas fielded!

DSC_0460

A rolling grave. The shoes coming out the front are a nice touch!

DSC_0462

One of two A-Team vans. The other was a team from ParaBar Estate Agents.

DSC_0467DSC_0470

Lots of the cars looked really professional too!

DSC_0472

This car by the scouts literally shares the same body design as a really early French racing car. I was so impressed when I saw it! I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the car though 🙁

DSC_0473

“I want you to go back out there and hit the pace car!” Cole Trickle had to turn both left and right to get through this course!

DSC_0474DSC_0475

Flames make them go faster! I like the handle on the back to make it easier to push off of the starting ramp.

DSC_0476DSC_0477

Bare essentials cart by Team Gravitas

DSC_0478DSC_0479

This beast was actually made out of fibreglass with a tubular chassis underneath it like a proper racing car! So impressive!

DSC_0468DSC_0469

My personal favourite car of the event was this Hoonicorn replica. It was little rough around the edges, but a super good effort!

I didn’t get many photos from track side. It was hard to get many good ones as there were so many people! It was amazing to see everyone out supporting the drivers!

DSC_0504DSC_0508DSC_0523DSC_0526

The Rotary Club of Billericay did an absolutely amazing job of organising this and I hope it can become an annual event. What would be even better would be to get all the local councils together and make an Essex wide series for soap boxes! That would be so much fun!

Although for the most part it seems like a bit of fun it’s actually bringing motorsport back to the public eye and might be inspiring kids to take up motorsport in the future. Be that in an engineering role for F1 teams or LMP1 teams or driving at a grassroots level in karting, autograss, drifting, rallying etc. We need fresh blood off of the Xbox and actually into a car!

If I had any criticism it’s that the time between runs was a little too long. In the next run I’d like to see an up ramp for pushing the cars to the top at the back of the launch ramp so as one car leaves the next can be pushed to the top. Other than that an amazing organised first event and a damn site better organised than some ‘professional’ motorsport events *cough* Drift Allstars *cough*

Thanks for a fantastic day and you can guarantee that Motorsport For Mental Health will be entering a car next year! (If I can get this E46 BMW finished haha!)

Thanks for reading!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply