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Newton boy Atkinson takes national stage Saturday

July 20, 2011

Caleb Atkinson, 9, of Newton, will represent his city
and state at the All-American Soap Box Derby on
Saturday for the second time in two years. Atkinson
is the lone rally champion from the state of North
Carolina in the Super Stock division. He’s pictured here
with his father, Barron, at last year’s All-American
Soap Box Derby.

For the second straight year, a Newton boy will represent his city and state in the All-American Soap Box Derby.

Nine-year-old Caleb Atkinson will race as the only rally champion from
North Carolina in the Super Stock division at the 74th edition of the Derby this Saturday, which is held in Akron, Ohio.

The Derby features around 500 of the greatest soap box champions from around the World.

“I’m more relaxed than the first time I went,” Atkinson said. “I know what to do. Last time, I had someone guiding me that I knew from Huntersville. I’m way more relaxed than nervous.”

In order to earn the title of rally champion, Atkinson traveled to seven locations across five states, including Culpepper, Va., Charleston, W.Va., Bowling Green, Ky., Tallahassee, Fla., Huntersville, N.C., Morganton, N.C., and Winston-Salem, N.C.

At each of these derby tracks, Atkinson finished in the top-eight of each race. That helped him accumulate 176 points to earn the title of rally champion, the only boy from North Carolina to do so in the Super Stock division.

Atkinson said each track was unique and had to be driven differently.

“I’m focus on the strategy of getting down the hill,” Atkinson said. “At Tallahassee, I didn’t drive right down the middle. You curve near the other side of the pavement. That makes you go faster. At Kentucky, you want to go down the middle because the track is smooth, just like in Akron.”

This will be Caleb’s second straight trip to Akron for the Derby. Last year, he competed in the first-year stock division, which includes boys and girls age 8-13. He was eliminated in his first heat.

“I’m kind of nervous because last year I wasn’t the only one from North Carolina,” Atkinson said. “In the first heat, I lost. That’s how I got to Super Stock.”

Last year, Atkinson said he met a ton of great derby drivers from all around the world, including Germany and Japan, and exchanged derby badges with them.

“The Japanese kids’ badge was weird looking,” Atkinson said. “It had a tiny body with a big head and big eyes.”

Atkinson is the third member of his family to race in the Derby. Caleb’s father, Barron, raced in the derby in 1970 when he was 13 years old. Caleb’s sister, Emily, raced in 1991 at the age of 10.

Cindy Atkinson, Caleb’s mom, said her husband and son bonded through the derby.

“Caleb and his dad built Caleb’s first car out of wood,” Cindy said. “It took them a long time. He was only 5 years old. He couldn’t race it, but he wanted to build it. He would run it down the hill in a development near our house, but he still couldn’t race it. He just practiced. We would go to the fairgrounds and he would race it down the hill by himself. It was fun.”

As for his future in the Derby, Caleb said he would like to race in the Master’s division (11-16 year olds) or Ultimate Speed division (16-18 year olds), but he doesn’t want to try the National Derby Rallies (NDR), which another derby organization that includes kids of all ages.

“I’d like to try to the Ultimate Speed, but I don’t want to try NDR,” Caleb said.

“It will be couple of years before he can compete in the Master’s division,” Cindy said. “I’m sure it will be something that he will try to do.”

For more information about the All-American Soap Box Derby, you can visit their website at www.aasbd.org.

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