Off to the races |

Off to the races

An application to close Nimrod Street for the third annual Nevada City Adult Soapbox Derby provided an opportunity for the town’s city council to vet the event’s safety after one spectator was hospitalized in June during this year’s races.

The derby is a fundraiser for Pioneer Park, along Nimrod Street. Event organizer Rich Bodine estimated that June’s second annual event raised at least $15,000 — triple the first year’s total amount raised.

“It’s a community event, that also happens to raise money for the park,” Bodine told The Union Wednesday about the races that have attracted thousands of spectators each.

Bodine was unable to attend Wednesday’s council meeting as he was attending his son’s Christmas concert at Seven Hills school, he said when The Union reached out to incorporate his perspective. Gary Apple, one of Bodine’s advisors, addressed the council in his place.

“This event is a homespun, grassroots effort. The primary purpose is a family event in the city park,” Apple said. “We think it is very successful in a lot of ways.

Racers craft vehicles from scratch to either compete in the time trials or be judged in the art class, where the most creative derby car is crowned. In June, 16 of the 42 total entrees were art cars not necessarily interested in having the fastest time.

“Most of these are built on shoestring budgets with found parts,” Apple said.

At the end of the first round of races of the day’s opening heat of competition, one entry crashed near the finish line and struck two people — Justin Thacker, a race volunteer, was airlifted by an emergency helicopter to Sutter Roseville Medical Center for a head injury.

“All the problems were actually after the finish line,” Apple said. “We came to the conclusion that some people were continuing to race after the race had finished.”

The other person was knocked into a nearby creek, sustained only minor injuries and did not seek treatment.

“We would like this to be a accident-free and fun event,” Bodine said, a sentiment echoed by Apple.

Thacker, who was treated and released the same day, has not only requested to race in the next derby races, he also supported the effort by driving a derby car in both the Fourth of July parade and the Constitution Day parade in September, Bodine reported.

“When something like this happens, it is a negative,” Apple told the council. “The reality is that it is a race, an event with kinetic activity and things can happen.”

The race’s $5 million of aggregate insurance coverage is in the ongoing process of covering Thacker’s medical expenses, Bodine said. The city requires a $1 million of insurance for the event

“The person is fine and wants to race and drive again this year,” Bodine said. “Rather than standing on the side of the track this year, he wants to drive.”

Following the crash, competition was delayed as event organizers spoke with competing teams on options moving forward for the day. Event organizers gathered racers and asked them if they wanted to end the race or shorten the race route to slow speeds down. Rather than cancel the remaining races, drivers agreed to continue on a shortened track.

Councilman Robert Bergman inquired what changes are planned to ensure safety at the next race.

“There will be some real changes this year,” Bodine told The Union.

While the finish line is slated to be at its original location, Bodine said the layout of the finish area will be adjusted to increase the number of barricades and hay bales to further protect the spectators.

The entire finish line area will likely be completely lined with hay bales and barriers, Apple said.

Cars will also have their weight limits restricted, down 30 percent from the previous 500-pound limit, Apple said. Driver weights will also be included in those totals, with a limit to one driver to speed trial cars, Bodine said.

Drivers and their vehicles will also go through more scrutiny, Apple said, where the vehicles will be tested and their drivers certified.

Perhaps the biggest change to the derby will be its date. The first two years of the race was held on the Saturday of Father’s Day weekend — the day before the Nevada City Classic bicycle race.

Instead, the third annual race is scheduled for June 22, the weekend after Father’s Day.

During that same weekend, the Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival is held in Grass Valley.

“It was just crazy to have so many popular events at the same time,” said Mayor Duane Strawser, organizer of the Nevada City Classic.

“I think it will make more sense for the (Chamber of Commerce) and the police force,” Apple said. “It makes it less of a busy weekend.”

Races funds improve park

Funds from the race’s first year totaled around $5,000, which funded the installation of a Bocce ball court.

However, the $15,000 from the 2012 race will go to a number of bigger projects that may take longer to plan for, Bodine said.

“Are all the projects going to be completed in 12 months as I had originally hoped?” Bodine said. “That happened in the first year, but this year the projects are longer term.”

While some of the most recent funds have been allocated to updating the picnic grounds and to installing benches around the swimming pool, the bulk of revenue raised will be used as matching funds to refurbish the lower baseball field that is prone to flooding, as well as installing hiking trails, Bodine said.

“That could be a three-year project,” Bodine said.

Matching funds are being sought by Parks and Recreation Supervisor Dawn Zydonis from the state, Bodine said.

“Year two is in progress,” Bodine said. “It is happening.”

For more information on the Soapbox Derby visit

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call (530) 477-4236.

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