Luke Skywalker Whitmer (yes, that’s his given name) hopes the force will be with him in Akron, Ohio on July 21, 2012.
The force of gravity, that is.
Whitmer, a 12-year-old rising eighth-grader at Cave Spring Middle School, will face off against over 200 soap box derby competitors from all over the world in the National All-American Soap Box Derby after getting in the car for the first time last June.
Each locality holds a local derby (Roanoke’s was held on Saturday, June 16, at Walrond Park this year), and the overall winner from the derby automatically advances to the All-American derby in Akron. For those who weren’t able to come out on top in their divisions, the All-American derby also automatically accepts drivers who accumulate 180 points or more during their rally races. After traveling to eight rallies in Md., WVa. and across Va., Whitmer ended this year with 181 points.
“Local champions from each of the Stock, Super Stock and Masters division Soap Box Derby races throughout the world come to Akron, Ohio, in July each year to compete for scholarships and merchandise prizes in the All-American Soap Box Derby,” according to the race website. The race takes place on Saturday, July 21, but the competitors and their families will spend the week in Akron, enjoying race-related festivities.
“I’m most looking forward to the race, and I’m most nervous about the race,” says Whitmer, who races a 240 lb. Super Stock car that he and his dad, Ben Lumsden, built together during a six-hour work session one evening last year.
The Akron race is a national stage for soap box derby racing, which can be a bit intimidating for a racer, particularly for one who just finished up his first full calendar year of racing. Each driver gets one shot at advancing in the All-American derby. Understanding the pressure, Whitmer says his goal is “to not lose the first race.” With so many drivers competing in the derby, you get one run, and “if you lose, you’re out,” Ben explained.
When Whitmer got into racing a year ago, after watching his dad coach his brothers, Gabe and Christian Lumsden (both students at Penn Forest Elementary School), at first all he wanted to do was win. “I’ve learned that it’s OK to lose,” he says. Whitmer’s parents, Ben and Michelle Lumsden, have also seen a big change from when he first started racing.
“When he first started, he couldn’t hit the marks,” Ben said. “Now he can. His focus is a lot better.”
A passion for soap box derby racing runs in the family: Ben coaches all three sons, and Luke, Gabe and Christian’s great uncle is Del Waldron, who was instrumental in helping soap box derby racing return to Walrond Park last year.
“[He's learned that] if you don’t put much effort into it, you’re not going to be successful,” Ben says.
After the race on July 21, Whitmer plans to enjoy the rest of his summer–before the racing starts all over again in September!
Check back here for further information on Luke’s time in Akron.