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Children race to victory in E. Elmhurst soap box derby

TimesLedger Newspapers

Photo gallery

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Na-Me Savice, 11, prepares to break as he rolls down the hill on 23rd Avenue during the Flushing Meadow Soap Box Derby. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Mohammad Islam, 9, rolls down 23rd Avenue. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Queens Village resident Emani Robinson-Bell gets ready for her race.
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Julian Francis (r.) waits for the race to begin.
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Spectators watch the competition.
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Miles Warner competes in the derby.
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Isaiah Bradic looks intently at the hill in front of him.
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Avery Warner of East Elmhurst (l.) races down the hill.
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Glendale resident Jonah Brown, 9, competes in the annual Flushing Meadow Soap Box Derby.

They are not even old enough for a learner’s permit, but two young speed devils tore down 23rd Avenue in East Elmhurst Saturday to take the top prizes in the Flushing Meadow Soap Box Derby.

In her black and gray Bugs Bunny-themed racer, 13-year-old Yazmin Baptiste, of Glen Oaks, won in the race’s superstock division, and 8-year-old Julian Francis, of East Elmhurst, took top prize in the stock division.

“I put my head down and put a lot of weights to go faster down the hill. It took a lot of focus,” said Yazmin, who got a lot of help from family and friends, as well as sponsor GNB Auto Repair Shop, building her racer. “It took about a day to make. It was fun, but it was quick.”

Both winners earned themselves a trip to Akron, Ohio, in July for the world championship All-American Soap Box Derby. Julian will not be able to make the trip because he will be attending his brother’s graduation, but the youngster, who will celebrate his ninth birthday soon, said he still had fun building the racer and placing first in his division.

“I kept my head low and steered really straight,” he said. “I felt excited and happy and I was confused that I won.”

Steve Stafford, president of the derby, said about 23 girls and boys competed this year.

“We often hear a lot about soccer, and baseball and basketball, which are all great sports, but not enough people know about soap box racing,” he said.

Stafford said one of the group’s racers brought back the championship from Akron two years ago, an impressive feat considering that space is limited in Queens and the racers can only go on a few practice runs a year.

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), one of the derby’s sponsors, said the competition teaches youngsters about disciplines such as engineering and math.

“It really opens doors to a lot of other opportunities,” she said.

Ferreras also said she was working to identify a location in Flushing Meadows Corona Park to build a track where racers could practice.

“I have faith that in a 1,200-acre park we can find a place for a track,” she said.

Tarik Coles, the councilwoman’s scheduler and special projects director, used to race in the derby and even went to Akron once.

“It was a great experience and I learned a lot,” he said. “I wasn’t athletic, but I could be smart.”

Lexon Warner sat at the top of the hill as his three boys — Aiden, Myles and Avery — prepared to launch their racers down the track. He said he got to spend some quality father-son time building the racers with his boys.

“I’m a single dad and I work a lot, so it was some great family time,” he said. “They really enjoyed getting their hands dirty and working with tools and all that jazz.”

The derby was scheduled to decide this week who would go to Akron in Julian’s place.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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