When I was a kid, I used to lie awake nights, dreaming of how much fun it would be to build a Soap Box Derby racecar with my father, then going on to compete against others. I will never forget the first time I saw an official Soap Box Derby downhill track when I was 15 years old. Even though no one was there, I just stood there with my mouth open in awe, as if I could hear and see all those who had been there before me — but I never did get to build a real Soap Box Derby car.
However, if there is one thing a country boy who lives 12 miles from town knows, it’s how to make do with what he’s got. Something I had that most city kids did not was a long, paved downhill road with almost no traffic. You would be amazed how fast a Soap Box Derby car can go when it’s built from three two-by-fours, a wooden apple box, some old lawn mower wheels, a piece of rope and a few well-placed nails.
My mother used to scream at me for using her good apple boxes, so I unloaded a wooden box of dynamite and stacked it neatly on my father’s workbench. This cured the problem with my mother’s concern for her precious apple boxes, but for some reason my father didn’t like that I left the dynamite stacked on his workbench. I don’t think he minded me using the wooden box as much as he did me using a hammer and nails on the same workbench to build my racer next to the stack of dynamite. Boy, was he mad, at least until dinner that night when he said, “Well, if it had blown up, Gary never would have heard a thing but that damn racer of his would have gone like hell.”
Then, one afternoon, another dream of mine did come true. I looked out the dining-room window and saw my father unloading a go-kart out of the back of his pickup. From that day on, there just wasn’t enough daylight and the only things that changed besides my age were the dreams. The dream of passing through a cheering crowd as I took the checkered flag at the National Soap Box Derby championships eventually changed to driving the winning car across the finish line in races with NASA and La Carrera Panamericana. Those dreams are always with us racers, and the lucky ones eventually leave the wooden crates, hammer and nails behind, and find their way to NASA.