Menifee Sets 'Little Rascals' Loose in Soap Box Derby

Kyle Davis is all business as he waits to head downhill in his White Lightning race car. Eric ...

Kyle Davis is all business as he waits to head downhill in his White Lightning race car.
Eric Johnson looked down at the "Rust Bucket," an aptly named vehicle constructed from a wheelbarrow, steel barrel and a set of slick wheels.

"Ryan (Eric's son) won in a fiberglass car last year, but they changed the rules so you can't run a fiberglass car anymore," said Eric Johnson of Johnson's Auto Service in Menifee. "I wanted to make it look like the Little Rascals -- you know, an old school street racer."

Rust Bucket team members (from left, back row) Ryan Moore, Nick Johnson, Eric Johnson, Richard Johnson and Ryder Lawrence (in front).
That's exactly the feel organizers were going for in Saturday's second annual Menifee Soap Box Derby. In a scene that brought back memories of the old "Our Gang" films for adults and the 1994 "Little Rascals" movie for youngsters, "kids" of all ages gathered Saturday morning for some good old-fashioned fun.

About 45 drivers -- mostly teenagers and younger -- took part in the event, bringing vehicles of all shapes and colors. There are fairly strict rules set down by the organizers at Valley-Wide Recreation, but the bottom line is simple: Build a car without an engine that will roll down the steep hill of Menifee Road toward Holland Road as fast as possible.

There were a few minor crashes into the hay bales that lined the street, but emergency personnel were on hand and there were no serious injuries. More than anything, there was a sense of community spirit and a closing of the generation gap as family members and friends worked together to prepare and race the cars.

"It gives kids an opportunity to learn how to use tools," said Hemet resident Mike Percival (below), who was putting air in a tire before sending his 7-year-old grandson Daniel Hulse out to race in the Training Wheels Division. "I run an air conditioning business, and it's amazing to me how many young people come to work without knowing the right end of a screwdriver. In doing this, Daniel now knows everything about how one of these cars is put together.

"My father did this kind of race with my brothers when they were little. I can't say enough about Joe Schnake and Valley-Wide for putting this together."

Schnake, recreation supervisor for Valley-Wide, created the event last year in cooperation with the City of Menifee, which sponsors the race. He said the field of drivers increased from 20 last year to 45 this year, and many more have inquired about entering next year's event, even though entries won't be accepted until January.

Dean Wetter, general manager of Valley-Wide, even got into the act, losing a "grudge match" race against Menifee City Manager Rob Johnson (below). Wetter said he couldn't be more pleased with the event.

"The response after last year's event was great," Wetter said. "It's great to see so many more come out this year. Families get to work together, from the building of the car through the racing. To bring back an old phrase from the Little Rascals days, it's a gas."

Kyle Davis, who shared driving duties in the "White Lightning" car with his brother Noah, was proud of the family's entry and said they had fun working together on the project.

"We helped my dad build it," Kyle Davis said. "We spent quite a while in the garage working on it. We didn't do that well last year, so we changed out the wheels this time to try to go faster. I think our car is a little heavier than most, so I think that will help us."

Members of the "Hopped Up" team won a design award: Leo Santos, Diego Porroa and Adiel Flores.
Here are the winners from Saturday's event:

Training Wheels (ages 8-12)

First place: Gavin Rose
Second place: Noah Davis

Big Wheels (ages 13-17)
First place: Katelynn Hugar
Second place: Kyle Davis

Limo Wheels (open division, including adults)
First place: Jason DeBie (sponsored by Sherwin Williams)
Second place: Lilianna Moreno (sponsored by Sylvan Learning Center)

Training Wheels
Evan Hamilton (pictured above)

Big Wheels
Eric Johnson

Limo Wheels

"Hopped Up" team of Leo Santos, Diego Porroa, Adiel Flores


Valley-Wide-Recreation 254911692304661220

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