OUR STORY: THE SAGINAW “SUPERSLOPE”
The Saginaw Soap Box Derby began in Saginaw in 1940, about 6 years after it began in Ohio. The Saginaw News sponsored the first races held at the Holland and Pere Marquette Railroad Underpass. Ironically, this is only a very short distance from where the track presently exists. C. David O’Brien (age 15) was the first winner of the M.S. Coyle Trophy and represented Saginaw in the Akron, Ohio competition for the $2000 scholarship at the All-American Soap Box Derby Race. His brother, Francis O’Brien was the Saginaw Soap Box Derby Champion in 1941.
The Derby was cancelled in 1942 because of World War II, and there were no Saginaw Derby races again until 1960 when it was co-sponsored by Draper Chevrolet, Saginaw Junior Chamber of Commerce and the West Side Civic Association and moved to the Court Street Bridge. The national sponsor at the All-American Soap Box Derby was Chevrolet Division and the scholarship was increased to $15,000. By 1963, the Saginaw Derby was moved to Williams Street, and the first Derby Princess was crowned.
Then, in 1964, the Saginaw Derby was moved off the street to its home for the next 20 years at Linton Park near Webber and South Washington Streets. This permanent track was 700 feet long, 30 feet wide, and had a 15 foot high starting ramp.
In 1967, the Past Champs Association was formed to assist the Saginaw Jaycees and in 1971 the Saginaw Soap Box Derby Commission was formed.
In 1972, several “Firsts” occurred when Saginaw saw the first female (Cathy Frederico) race, and Bay City and Saginaw held the first and only challenge race with Dale Watkins of Saginaw as the 1972 winner and Deborah Packard of Bay City as the 1973 winner. The UAW-CIO CAP Council was the financial sponsor.
By 1976, The Saginaw Soap Box Derby had joined forces with the Buena Vista Lions Club to build a new championship track. The Derby started the Bingo with help from the Buena Vista Lions and React. It was also the first year that junior and senior divisions were started, as well as the double elimination race.
Construction began at the Buena Vista Lions Park by the Operating Engineers Local 324 in 1977. This year also saw the first female champion, Ruth Reittenbach in the Senior Division. The Derby scholarship fund was also established.
The grand opening of the new home of the Saginaw Soap Box Derby and Buena Vista Lions Park occurred in 1983, after 5 long years of hauling many, many loads of dirt to construct the 50 foot high Derby hill. The track was comparable to Akron, Ohio’s track because it was over 870 feet long, 30 feet wide, and had a paved return track. Our first champions on the new hill were Marcy Miklosivvic in the Senior Division and Crystal (“Saginaw Sam”) Fackler in the Junior Division.
In 1988 Bryant Reif was the first Saginaw car to place at the All Amercian (fourth in the Junior Division) in almost 40 years of Saginaw participating there. Our first NDR placer was “Saginaw Sam” in their Nationals in Ft. Wayne, IN (8th) in 1982. Our first All American National Champion was Paul Greenwald in the Junior Division in 1991.
In 1991, the additional land at the end of the track was purchased and in the fall of ’93, reconstruction of the run-out area of the track began. In 1994, the track was completed with dimensions just like the Akron track, i.e. 953 feet long, 30 feet wide, with the same grade as Akron’s track. Extra features include a paved car return, a run-out at the end of the track that is over 250 feet long, and a paved pit area at the bottom of the track that is nearly 1 acre in size.
In 1995, Saginaw hosted the Supernova Rally, the largest rally ever held in the 20 year history of the NDR. It was co-sponsored by R.G. Canning. Also during 1995 and 1996, Saginaw was the host city for the NDR National Championships, that consisted of the best qualified racers. 180 racers came from across the United States, Canada, and Germany to race in 7 divisions including the Super Kids Division for the physically and mentally challenged youth and their co-drivers.
In 1998, a new Derby barn was constructed at the end of the pit area to provide easier access to the track from the barn. Guard rails have been added along the track fencing to ensure a higher level of safety.
The new millennium saw the return of the NDR Championship in Saginaw. Five divisions are now part of the NDR including a feature race for the newly established Challenger Division and an added division for the new “Scottie Special”, All-American Lay Back Masters and Lean-Forward Masters Cars. Paving of the rest of the return track, along with improvements in the run out and pit area top off the 2000 race season.
Saginaw’s Derby Director, Vaughn Dietzel was elected to the Board of Directors for National Derby Rallies, Inc. This is an opportunity to bring Saginaw Soap Box Derby and the NDR into the spotlight of the new century with goals of improving the quality of racing throughout the country as well as keeping to the high standards that have always been a part of the local organization. At this time both Vaughn Dietzel and Curt Hillman (NDR national president for the last two years) represent Saginaw at the national level as members of the Board of Directors. Jan Osterbeck served as Race Coordinator at that time. Curt is the second person from this area to be NDR national president. The first was Larry Fackler in 1986 and 1987 with his wife, Sue, as secretary. Back then, the NDR nationals were always held in Fort Wayne, IN. (NDR President update, Curt Hillman was elected again for the 2005-6 racing year). Another honor gathered by our group was the selection of Jerry Reif as the All American Regional Director for Michigan, Indiana , Illinois, and Wisconsin in 1996 and is still holds that position today.
The 21st century holds a promising future for SSBD. More rallies are scheduled and the track continues to be improved. Last year paving on the return track and new lights were added at the end of the run out to indicate winning lane as well as clear and closed track conditions. New communication sets were purchased and the Derby barns have seen numerous improvements. The Monument was updated to include all race divisions past and present. The Super Kids Division continues to grow.
Saginaw Soap Box Derby hosted the 2002 NDR National Championship Race in July, 2002. It was a great honor to have been selected. To get ready for the race we had the track resurfaced and new pea gravel was added in the run out area. It is our opinion that we ran THE – BEST- EVER -NATIONALS at the SAGINAW SUPER-SLOPE! We would like to thank all those people from our local organization who were tireless in making the events successful.
In 2004 we renovated the electric wiring at the track and added “Night Lighting” and indoor plumbing. Under a grant proposal, in conjunction with the Buena Vista Community Center, a walking track encircles our track area; it is utilized by the people from the center as well as the members of Saginaw Soap Box Derby.
A total fencing replacement took place last year to keep the Saginaw track as one of the best in the nation.
Due to some very hard work by the Saginaw group (mainly the HIllman’s, Deitzel’s, and Osterbeck’s) a very successful NDR Nationals was held here on the Saginaw Track in 2005.
Vaughn Dietzel is currently the NDR President and doing a fine job.
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