Thom Pellikaan: Rapp’s driving force of Soap Box racing

Amissville’s Jeremiah Foscato heads to nationals in Ohio

Rappahannock County loves to race.

That’s one of the explanations for why the county had 14 drivers participate in the Piedmont Area Soap Box Derby last Saturday.

Rappahannock County has always been well represented in the annual race — dating back to its inception 16 years ago. Soap Box Derby committee member Thom Pellikaan, who lives on Red Oak Mountain, started supporting the derby early, donating money and a pair of cars to Castleton Volunteer Fire Department to start the derby craze.

Thom Pellikaan, the driving force behind Rappahannock County Soap Box Derby racing, poses here with Masters Division Champion Jeremiah Foscato of Amissville. Courtesy photo

Pellikaan purchased the cars with anonymous donations and the roster grew from just Castleton to include Sperryville Volunteer Fire Department, Flint HIll VFD (which won the All-American Soap Box Derby piloted by Gabe DeRosa), the Lunch Bunch, Wakefield Country Day School, The Inn at Little Washington, the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office, Copper Fox Antiques, Castleton Festival and Friends of Rappahannock County.

Pellikaan supports the drivers with a yard sale at his home, raising between $2,000 to $3,000 for registration fees, brakes and various other parts needed throughout the derby. He helped set up the derby’s Give Local Piedmont fundraiser this year, which raised close to $8,000 with more than $7,000 coming from supporters of Rappahannock County drivers.

Pellikaan is always ready to talk racing, recognizing the importance of the derby’s structure and focus on family. He’s quick to recruit drivers and is always on the lookout for potential racing enthusiasts.

“The Foscatos (Jeremiah, Joshua and Joy) just appeared in a grocery store,” Pellikaan said. “I had my card and just asked if they were driving Soap Box Derby car yet?”

It’s a question the Foscatos are glad they were asked, as Jeremiah became the Masters Division champion on Saturday, advancing to the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio.

“Thom Pellikaan is the driving force,” his father Dylan Foscato said. “He picks kids up off the street and that’s kind of what he did to us. He tracked us down in the grocery store. We didn’t know anything about it and he got all three of us involved. We’ve just stuck with it.”

Others, like Sarah and Katie Johnson he’s known for years. Their mother Cole Johnson lived on Red Oak Mountain when they were born and now they drive for Copper Fox and The Lunch Bunch.

Piedmont Area Masters Division Champion Jeremiah Foscato of Amissville is off to the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. Courtesy photo

“They wanted to race two years ago, they just turned 8,” Pellikaan said. “The Johnsons used to live on Red Oak Mountain. I got to know the family very well.”

Sarah said Pellikaan reached out to her and she said yes. Her sister, not wanting to be left behind, soon followed.

“I’d never done it before,” Sarah said. “As soon as Katie saw me doing it she wanted to do it. As soon as we started doing it, we enjoyed it and it’s a lot of fun.”

Katie said that as twins, they often know what the other is thinking. However, they haven’t used that skill to share strategies about going down the hill.

“I don’t really have a strategy,” Sarah said with a laugh. “I just go low.”

Jaden Torosian started racing six years ago in the stock division. This year he moved up to Super Stock while his sister McKenna kept going in stock. Jaden said that he’s always extolling the virtues of the derby.

“I asked some of my Boy Scout friends from school if they would do it and they said next year they definitely would,” he said.

Many drivers talk about the excitement of going down the hill, the thrill of the competition and the trophies. Jaden has simpler reasons.

“It’s just meeting your friends, talking to them and having fun,” Jaden said. “It’s really all that matters.”

Bonding with his sister has been another byproduct of racing.

“All of our family pitches in and we all just have fun working on the car,” said Jaden, son of Mark and Susan Torosian of Amissville.

Jessica Lindstrom, headmaster of Wakefield Country Day School, said that the derby combines the fun of racing with physics to promote educational opportunities.

“It’s a family activity, it’s a wholesome activity,” Lindstrom said. “It’s hands on where they themselves are responsible for their cars so the kids are invested in it.”

Lindstrom marvels at the outpouring of support in Rappahannock County. It seems that every civic organization possible in the tight-knit community has a presence at Paul Bates Raceway.

“It’s become a signature of the community spirit that’s there,” Lindstrom said. “There’s so many organizations — from the sheriff’s department, to the Lunch Bunch, to the food pantry, to the schools themselves — where everyone is involved.”

The derby’s focus on family is what drives the community’s love of the 16th annual event.

“It really is that extended family,” Lindstrom said. “Something like this, not only are we representing ourselves but we’re representing the community.”