STANWOOD — Peyton Calkins climbed into her car and hunched over until her shiny blue helmet and yellow safety glasses nearly touched the front of the Soap Box Derby racer that she and her great-grandfather spent the last six weeks building.
The 7-year-old had been calm and cool up to that moment Saturday, but after shrugging off her polka-dot rain jacket and climbing into the driver’s seat, the nerves were setting in. She adjusted her safety glasses and waited for the signal to go.
“Are you ready, Peyton?”
She nodded. Her opponent was another young girl with a bright blue helmet and nervous smile. A race official pulled a lever and the block holding Peyton’s car in place dropped. The little white roadster zipped down the starting ramp and rumbled down the hill on 276th Street, the wheels making a sound like thunder to go with the heavy morning rain.
Her grandfather, Forrest Warner, watched her roll off the starting line and her great-grandfather, Ed Storts, cheered her on from a little farther down the hill. Storts, 68, is raising his great-granddaughter. He and Peyton live near Lake Goodwin and this was their first year being part of the annual Stanwood Camano Island Soap Box Derby.
Peyton was a third of a second behind her opponent at the finish line for her first run of the day.
“She didn’t win it but she went nice and straight down the track,” Storts said. “That made me happy.”
On her second run Saturday morning, Peyton won with two thirds of a second to spare.
“It was kind of scary, but I liked it,” she said.
The thrill of speeding down the hill is her second favorite part of the race. Her favorite part, she said, is being there with her “papa and grandpapa.”
While Peyton was on the way to victory in her second round, Jayson and Jack Withers were a few yards behind them in line, getting ready for Jack’s second run of the day.
It’s the 12-year-old’s third year racing in the soap box derby. He’s got a few more to go before he catches up to Dad. It’s Jayson Withers’ seventh year.
Before Jack, he helped his older children, twins Jenna and Jay, put together their cars and watched them zoom down the hill on race day. At 19, they’ve outgrown the competition, which is for ages seven to 17. Still, Jenna braved the Saturday morning drizzle with her dad and mom to cheer on her younger brother. The derby has become a Withers family tradition.
“What I love is race day and the camaraderie between the kids,” said Jayson Withers, 42. “Everybody becomes everybody’s biggest fan. It’s nice to see the kids all have something in common.”
The derby is a way for parents to teach their kids about working hard, following rules, being independent, helping others and having good sportsmanship, Storts and Withers said.
Nearly 60 racers competed in this year’s derby on the day before Father’s Day. Drivers such as Jake and Peyton celebrated their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers by racing hard and finishing every run with hugs and high-fives.
“It’s such a big community event and everybody helps each other, even though it’s a race,” Jenna Withers said.
Local businesses sponsor most of the cars so families don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on their own kits and every kid can afford to race. Jake drove the Davis Place Teen Center car and Peyton drove the Mark’s Camano Pharmacy car.
For nearly two months leading up to race day, the drivers spent at least one evening each week putting together their cars with the guidance of parents and volunteers.
Peyton finished her car before the final building workshop on June 9. She didn’t want to go since she didn’t have anything left to do, but Storts made her go to the workshop so she could help others.
“I just want her to learn some of the responsible things,” Storts said. “That she can do things for herself, and you have to follow rules for certain things and help support other people.”
Those are some of the same lessons Jake has learned in his three years as a racer. His advice to newcomers is to have good sportsmanship and have fun. He took time to admire his opponent’s car and wish him luck before climbing in for his second run on Saturday.
Jayson Withers used a white towel to wipe some of the rain water off the front of the car while Jack waited on the ramp for his turn to go.
“You missed a spot,” he teased his dad as fresh raindrops replaced those he’d just wiped away. Folks on the sidelines chuckled and Jayson Withers made a face at his son.
Then he stood back to watch Jack go.
Jack flashed a confident smile and his dad cheered loudly as the race began.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org