With gravity as the fuel, racing to hit streets of Tsawwassen

I've always liked cars. As a teenager, I worked in a gas station, which paid for my first car, a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible. What I would give for another one of those!

In college, I worked for Budget Rent-A-Car, driving cars around, filling them up and getting them ready for the next renter. I drove all sorts of new cars all over town, which was pretty difficult during Expo 86.

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I worked on the General Motors advertising account, and got my first taste of racing when the Indy came to Vancouver. Later, I worked for a tire company that sponsored the Indy Lights races, so I had the opportunity to hang out at the track, wander through the pits, and get up close with the race cars and racers.

We also sponsored off-road rally racers. There is nothing like flying through the woods at 150 km/h, car sliding from side to side and knowing the driver is in complete control. It is incredibly exciting, even though it's not overly popular.

All this ignited a passion for cars and racing. As they say in the car industry, I have oil in my veins. I don't work in that industry any longer, but a Sunday watching the Indy 500 to me is time well spent.

Give me four wheels and a finish line, and I'll be there. That's why I'm thrilled to see racing hit the streets of Tsawwassen this Saturday. The inaugural Rotary Soap Box Derby is coming to 6th Avenue.

OK, so it's a little slower, but you have to admit, a whole lot more environmentally friendly. Gravity and inertia are the only propulsion. There won't be the smell of the fuel and burning rubber, but any time there's someone holding a steering wheel, staring down a competitor with eyes that say, "See you at the finish line," you know it's going to be exciting.

I've seen soap-box races before.

After the Vancouver Indy races, GM would loan the trucks they used for some races up at SFU. It's a lot more exciting than it may sound, when the only thing that separates the cars is aerodynamics and driving skill. Weights are usually added to make the cars even, so the right body position and straight wheels are the difference between first and second. And talk about close finishes - sometimes it was hard to determine who crossed the line in front.

More than the race itself, I hope the event gets kids interested in the derby cars and the physics involved. There is a lot of knowledge and learning that can be derived from a competition like this, and with racers from nine to 12, I hope that some of them start to think of the science behind the cars.

Since this is the first event, it's enough to just get it down the hill (so to speak), but perhaps next year the teams can partner with older kids studying physics and make the cars even better, and learn something along the way.

Thanks to Rotary and the Corporation of Delta for bringing racing to the streets of Tsawwassen, and I hope it becomes a post-Indy tradition. Now all we need is a catchy name. Rotary Races? South Delta Derby? I'm sure there's something better. Any suggestions?

Brad Sherwin, MBA has over 25 years' experience in marketing, public relations and business strategy. He is currently the director of marketing for a national non-profit organization.

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