Not all victories are achieved at the finish line.
Twelve-year-old Gabe Beroza of Sperryville came up just .032 seconds short of winning the super stock division of the 2012 Culpeper Soapbox Derby Championship on Saturday (June 23), losing to 16-year-old Adam Miller, who qualified to race at the All-American Soapbox Derby in Akron, Ohio on July 21.
But at least Gabe took a trophy taller than he was home to Rappahannock County!
Beroza, who will start seventh grade at Wakefield Country Day School this fall and just moved to the county from Ohio, was a fraction of a second shy of travelling back to his hometown – yes, Akron – to race for the world Soapbox Derby title. Driving a car sponsored by Flint Hill Volunteer Fire and Rescue, Gabe came in second in the overall competition, edging out third-place finisher (and last year’s world stock division rally champion) Gabby Beville of Linden – and is an alternate for the Akron race.
Ironically, Beroza hadn’t competed in soapbox racing while living in the sport’s capital city. It took moving to Rappahannock – and the enthusiasm and persuasion of event coordinator Thom Pellikaan – to get him out on the track.
“He is a changed kid!” Pellikaan said after the long race day that began at 7 a.m. Saturday and ended at 5 p.m. Pellikaan said that he knows how hard it can be for a boy to move to a new town, but witnessed firsthand Gabe’s personality and confidence flowering throughout the derby process, which started months ago and ended with the race day. “Gabe and Adam [the winner] went from strangers to good friends.”
It has been called “The Greatest Amateur Racing Event in the World,” according to Culpeper Soap Box Derby’s website. Though “to most of the more than a million youngsters who have participated in racing these gravity-powered cars since the Derby’s inception in 1934, it is just the ‘Soap Box Derby’.”
Seventeen drivers representing Rappahannock County sponsors joined 88 others from the Piedmont area in competition at the Culpeper Soap Box Derby, Pellikaan said, racing for the first time on the new Paul Bates Raceway, a state-of-the-art derby facility constructed this year. The ribbon cutting ceremony was the night before.
Out of the 49 starters who raced down the derby track on Saturday in Gabe’s super stock division, 11 were in Rappahannock-sponsored cars and two brought home trophies, Pellikaan said. Ten-year-old rookie driver Logan Clate, racing for Amissville Volunteer Fire and Rescue, captured sixth place, in the process defeating his fellow county drivers, John Turner IV, racing in the Castleton Festival/Chateauville Foundation car, and Martin O’Heir, driving for the Inn at Little Washington.
“We wanted Gabe to find something that would get him involved with other kids when we moved,” Gabe’s mother, Robane Beroza said, adding that she is proud of her son for doing so well in the competition. “The derby folks are fantastic and it is a great family organization. Plus the fact that boys and girls compete together is pretty unusual in sports.
“He loves the speed and has no fear,” Beroza said, noting that during the awards presentation Gabe was recognized as having reached 37 mph, the fastest speed down the track during the competition – and a course record.
Tents lined the new, 900-foot-long, two-lane raceway in Culpeper, spectators and fallen racers huddling in the shade. Event volunteers young and old in Derby T-shirts braved the direct rays at the finish line and starting gate. Some adults were caught in the crossfire of mischievous water guns, but didn’t seem to mind. Hot dogs and burgers funnelled out of the concessions tent in rapid succession.
Gabe’s grandmother, local real estate agent Cheri Woodard – who bought a half-page ad in last week’s Rappahannock News recognizing each of the 17 Rappahannock County Soap Box Derby drivers – said it was Pellikaan who gave her the derby bug.
“Every year, he’s come to me asking for donations and to sponsor a car,” Woodard said, jokingly adding that, “since I wasn’t going to buy a car this year, I figured I’d just throw in a grandson! And he’s had a great time with it.”