“Come on, Kevin!”
“Go! Go! Goooo!”
And the winner is Kevin Berry, Weicker Moving and
With nearly 30 boys competing, the double-elimination race seemed to last forever. Still, I
remember feeling like it was nothing more than a
prelude to Kevin’s inevitable victory and, although I
wasn’t conscious of it, a lifting of his tainted luck.
Sometime after 3 o’clock, after an endless
succession of heats, only six cars remained: Kevin’s,
Lange’s, and four others. During one race, as Kevin
sped past, I saw something strange happen: just
past the finish line, his car pulled suddenly to the
left, and, rather than braking normally, swerved and
plowed into the hay bales piled at the bottom of the
hill. Dad and I dropped our pops and sprinted to him.
Dad got there first. “You all right, Kev?” He
My brother had pulled his helmet off, and his face
was sweaty and pale. He was clearly distressed.
“I’m OK, but I think the car’s messed up,” he said.
“I’m not sure what happened.”
Kevin Berry, the author’s brother, built a new Soap Box Race officials ran over, pulled bales off the car,
Derby racer each year from 1969 to 1972. He lost his and carefully lifted Kevin out. He wasn’t hurt, but as
final Derby race to a cheater who put an electromagnet in his racer. Page 36: Kevin (left) and the author posing they rolled his car away, its rear wheels made a jarring
in front of another of his racers. shudder. Something was wrong.
“Look at that!” Kevin moaned, pointing, and Dad
returning with red-rimmed eyes and smelling and I looked. Freshly splintered wood protruded
smoky and sweet. Though we never said it out loud, from the foam rubber padding where the axle met
my family and I knew the 1972 Derby marked the the body. Somehow his brake had failed, and the
end of something, and we convinced ourselves it crash had torqued the car badly out of alignment.
was Kevin’s last best chance to win. That was it. Kevin lost his next race by two car
Race day dawned dry and cloudless. After Dad lengths, and half an hour later Bobby Lange was the
and Kevin chocked his car carefully into the Fairlane 1972 Boulder champion. I remember riding home in
and Mom and my sisters packed tuna sandwiches stony silence.
and a Thermos of milk into the Chevelle, we cara- The story could end there — and in a way it did,
vanned to Boulder, securing a spot near the bottom at least for Kevin. In August, he bought his first real
of Lehigh where we could see the finish line. The car, a ’ 61 Buick Special, using money he’d made
mood was playful and competitive, as spectators working at Marcantonio’s Pizza on North Main.
mixed with the young racers. Bobby Lange won in Akron, too; the Boulder Daily
In his preliminaries, my brother clocked a better Camera printed a picture of him, smiling and waving
time than anyone — more than two seconds faster and wearing the white jacket. Kevin’s racer went up
than the next contender, Bobby Lange, Jr., a rich on blocks.
kid from Boulder with a shiny fiberglass car and We didn’t pay much attention at first, but the next
cocky attitude. Kevin won his first few heats easily, year, 1973, Bobby Lange’s cousin, Jimmy Gronen,
a copper blur that shot past the finish line, past the also won the Boulder race, and went on to win
checkered flag, and past his sunburned family, who Akron as well. Yet the officials noticed a strange
waved and screamed like demons. lurch as Gronen’s car came off the metal starting