Danielle DelFerraro no longer drives soap-box race cars, but the All-American Soap Box Derby is still in her blood. "It's always a thrill to go down the hill," says DelFerraro, the race's only two-time world champion and a volunteer in the derby's Akron headquarters. "You're going pretty fast, the wind's in your face, and it's pretty cool the first few times."
Now 22, DelFerraro won the now-defunct kit-car division in '93 and the masters division in '94. She set a trend in the process, proving that boys don't always win the derby -- and the $5,000 top prize -- in three divisions: stock, super-stock, and masters. In fact, 46 percent of this year's record 439 racers are girls.
Worldwide interest continues to spread as well. For the first time in the derby's 66-year history, racers from New Zealand and Puerto Rico will compete, and age restrictions have been broadened to include entrants between 8 and 17. Cars go upwards of 30 mph on the almost 1,000-foot track. "It's kind of like being on a roller coaster at Cedar Point," says Jeff Iula, the derby's general manager.
But things are different now. "[Racers] don't have the talent, time, or tools they did 30 years ago," he explains. "So, we give [kids] the shell. We give them the steering wheel. We give them the axle."
Race Week begins at 9 a.m. Monday with a welcoming parade of tiny cars and their drivers. Vehicles are weighed and lane placements are drawn on Tuesday; trial runs take place all day Wednesday. A three-day food-and-music festival follows, starting with a local celebrity meet-and-greet at 4 p.m. Friday, July 25, and concluding Sunday , July 27, with a 6 p.m. doo-wop concert. The derby itself is at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, July 26. It all takes place at Akron's Derby Downs, 789 Derby Downs Drive. Admission is $5. Call 330-733-8723 for more information. -- Cris Glaser
Fake your way through Kidsfest
As knockoff artists go, John and Danita Harris tinker in child's play. They're the masterminds behind homemade Shrinky Dinks and sidewalk chalk, and they'll share their secrets at Kidsfest this weekend. The Strongsville couple fashioned a multimillion-dollar company by writing Kid Concoctions and Contraptions and other books of homespun recipes for top-selling toys. "Almost all of our concoctions cost under a dollar to make," John says. Kidsfest -- which also features live music, a play park, clowns, games, and a circus -- runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday at Tower City Amphitheater (351 Canal Road). Tickets are $5 for kids between 2 and 12 years old, and $7 for oldsters; call 440-247-4386. -- Cris Glaser
Return to Sender
Flying Boomerangs: Back to the Point of Origin is a history lesson, science primer, and sporting event all in one. Kids learn first about the fabulous flying sticks -- including their cultural applications and the complicated physics behind their flight. Then experts hand out boomerangs, dispense tips on throwing them, and take cover behind large trees while kids fling 'em into the sky. Rules and regulations for an August tournament will also be available. Flying Boomerangs takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Howe Meadow (4040 Riverview Road, at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Boston Township). Admission is free; call 216-524-1497. -- Michael Gallucci
Nick Jr. Campers
Nickelodeon Kids Camps have an answer for those who'd rather watch television than do something valuable with their summer days. With help from TV icons Jimmy Neutron, the Rugrats, and SpongeBob SquarePants, kids ages 7 to 13 can learn about science, history, and geography with hands-on experiments. Four- to-eight-year-olds can sing songs, play games, and make crafts featuring characters from Blue's Clues, Little Bill, and Dora the Explorer. The big-kid stuff takes place at 1 p.m. Tuesdays through July 29 at the Borders at 9565 Mentor Avenue in Mentor (440-350-8168); young kids converge at 4 p.m. Wednesdays through July 30 at the Borders at 2101 Richmond Road in Beachwood (216-292-2660). Admission is free. -- Diane Sofranec