Tim Kadrmas will miss working with the kids and adult volunteers after he finishes this year – his final year – directing the Valley City Soap Box Derby, but after 18 years in the job he decided it was time.
“Looking at the faces of rookies coming down the track the first time you can see it is thrilling and exhilarating for them – you see the joy and fear and excitement in their faces.”
This year’s North Dakota Soap Box Derby takes place June 8 and 9 in Valley City.
“I will still be involved, but it’s time to be a follower and not in charge. It is all volunteer work – I’m going to be 65 this year. It’s time for me to move out (of the leadership position) and let a younger person take over,” Kadrmas said Tuesday.
Kadrmas said he will miss ”the interaction with the kids and the volunteers. I will miss working with all the people in different phases” of running the annual event.
One of the regular adult volunteers is Valley City State University professor Hilde van Gijssel. “Without Kadrmas we wouldn’t have had a Soap Box Derby,” van Gijssel said. “He was the inspiration. He didn’t have kids involved, so he could have given up years ago, but he didn’t. He’s just dedicated. He’s a genuinely friendly guy. He’s trying to make it fun for the kids and for the volunteers. Last year he bought us (the volunteers) t-shirts. He has made it fun.”
Kadrmas said he never raced in a Soap Box Derby himself.
Kadrmas said what he likes most about the Soap Box Derby “is the fairness – it’s one of the most fair events I have been involved with.
Kadrmas said the sportsmanship involved in the derby also makes it important to him.
“When the racers start they are taught to wish each other luck before they start, and encourage racers to shake hands at the end even thought the loser can be very unhappy at losing.”
Despite the good memories, “I’m really looking forward to somebody stepping up (to be in charge.)”
Kadrmas came up with the idea of the Valley City Soap Box Derby in 1996 – three of us started it: Jan Stowman, and Steve Hoss and myself.”
Kadrmas remembers that year Valley City tore up the asphalt surface of Central Avenue and replaced it with concrete.
“I used to live a half block from Central Avenue. I was watching the process (of turning the street into a concrete route) and decided it was a great place for a Derby. Jan and Steve who were both in the business community were also interested, and heard I was – the three of us got together, and decided to invited the regional (Soap Box Derby) director from Omaha. We met with him to see how it was done. We had a community meeting and had to figure out getting cars, advertising and other things.”
Kadrmas, Hoss and Stowman were invited to Omaha to see the race. “It took us eight or nine hours to drive down, and decided it didn’t look that difficult, although there was a tremendous amount of preparation. The toughest part is timing,” because places can vary by only a few thousandths of a second. “Our timing broke down once, and it delayed the race by four hours.”
Valley City’s biggest Soap Box Derby so far has been 82 cars.“
He added, “Our race is one of the longest in the nation and one of the few run on city streets.” Valley City’s Soap Box Derby is the only sanctioned derby in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, Kadrmas said.
Each year the winners of each Valley City class are sent to the national Soap Box Derby in Omaha.
Local business traditionally have been good about sponsoring individual cars, but Kadrmas said corporate sponsorship of the local derby itself would help pay the high costs of putting on the annual event.
“We do it on a hair and a shoe-string. Basically we start out with no money every year,” Kadrmas said.