Re: 1952 Soap Box Derby-S.F.

04/18/17 - posted by Les Bell

I AM LES BELL***I have written a partial story here about my 1952 San Francisco Soap Box Derby experiance in the July 1952 race. I lost the race by a 2 inch photo finish race in San Francisco.

I lived in Piedmont, Ca. across the bay. Piedmont had about 14 entries in the San Francisco Soap Box Derby. All 15 were of various ages and attended PIEDMONT H.S. After Christmas break a notice appeared on the wall that a CHevy dealer in the area was accepting entries to build Soap Box Derby cars in the woodshop across the street from the Piedmont Quad. Lots of guys entered. We used the same official plans from the derby association. I customized mine by cutting a "V" into the dash area just above the steering wheel and I taped "surgical rubber sheets" around all four axle openings to make my car more aero-dynamic= less air friction.

Even back then people tried to "fix" races! Someone opened all the Official Soap Box Derby boxes that contained 4 red wheels and 2 axles we each purchased.
They then spun each wheel on a fixed RPM lath then used a stop watch to determine the wheels that spun for the longest time. Four of the fastest wheels were set aside for one of the "favored" guys cars. This guy came in 2nd in the S.F. race.

A week after the S.F. race Piedmont held its own very first Soap Box Derby (I can't find any records or pics?) I used this week to prepare my car by using "Jewler Compound" on all 8 ball bearings. AFTER i was satisfied that they were running smooth and long I cleaned the bearings with solvent and started work on special oak wooden springs for the axles.

Piedmont, Ca. is a very hilly place and the street that they chose for the race was very steep and had two curves like the letter "S". I rode my bike down that street many times looking for pot holes or bumps. Then it dawned on me! **** If I cut each curve close to the edge I could almost almost travel in a straight line! Well geometry class looked like it was starting to pay off. By doing this I was traveling about 15 less then if I drove the "S" course.

Long story short I wON! I won each elemination race by many car legnths. Aftyer I eliminated all the other racers It was me and the guy who came in second in San Francisco. You know, the guy with the "FIXed" hand picked faster bearings. I was nervous when we were both getting our cars lined up at the top of the street but when they dropped the holding blocks and we started down the street I knew I was going to win after the first curve because when we came out of it I was five feet ahead! I ended up beating him by about 12 fee! Everyone cheered!

they pushed me to an area where the 2nd & third place were already wainting. They gave us our trophys and took lots of pictures (can't find even one today)

The next morning I got a call from Piedmonts Mayor (I think?) asking if I could come ans meet with him and others about the race. They wanted to know how I could have beaten every one by such a wide margin. They said it wasn't even a fair race? I explained that I used geometry but they didn't see how that could have allowed me to win each race by many feet. I proudly took my trophy home, a small golden car on a stand. But I must admit I felt odd about these people not seeming to accept the fact that I, kid from Philadelphia, I returned to Philly 2 weeks later, who just came to Piedmont 10 months ago could have won the race that they all had fixed?

50 years later I got in touch with my friend who came in second, I told him about my geometry secret he came in second. He sent me a picture from a 1980 story in the papers that showed the winners of the 1952 Piedmont race. They had cut me out of the picture and showed three cars. The heading just said "These are the WINNERS" so you assumed that it was 1st, 2nd, & 3rd place winners. SO THEY CUT ME OUT OF THE PICTURE AND NEVER MENTIONED THAT I HAD WON! I HAVE NO PICTURES TO PROVE OTHERWISE.
TRUE STORY by Leslie Bell

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