Christa Ebner sunk low into her car, a red plastic helmet strapped under her chin and a stuffed moose tucked under her right leg.
The 15-year-old girl from Salem, Ore., is a racing veteran, driving her fourth Soapbox Derby car and making her first comeback after a 1-1/2-year retirement.
She blasted down the Post Street hill over the weekend, one of 34 youths competing in three divisions at Spokane’s first National Derby Rallies race.
“You meet a lot of cool people, and you get to go fast,” Ebner said.
Really fast - more than 30 mph down the four-block stretch, watching the course through a tiny slit, hugging the curb, looking for dips and straining to shave off any extra thousandths of a second.
Adults in lawn chairs and kids on couch cushions sat along Post Street. They cheered on favorites, relatives or whoever was in the lead.
Two cars raced at a time, rolling off ramps on Fiberglas wheels. Each battle featured two runs. Racers switched wheels and lanes with each other between runs, to even out any disadvantages.
Ebner’s a Derby queen, placing second in the All-American Soapbox Derby world stock finals two years ago. She retired on top but decided to leap back into racing last weekend. On Sunday, she sported a T-shirt proclaiming “I’m an Oregon girl and I can kick your butt!”
That she did, winning the superstock division Sunday over nine other racers.
Ebner’s sister, Alisha, 12, grabbed a trophy Sunday as well - first place in the stock division. She beat 18 other racers.
“I like getting trophies,” Alisha said, holding her 33rd career trophy and still wearing her red helmet.
Shaun Paschke, 12, of Salem won the master’s division over four other racers.
“You get to own your own car,” said Shaun, who plans to forgo racing for a career as a Boston Celtics point guard. “It’s pretty much like driving before you’re 15 or 16. It’s pretty fun.”
Yeah, if you like driving a car without gas and with steering so precise that a half-inch in the wrong direction can mean a wreck. Some racers were beginners - first-timers who weren’t so sure about the need for speed.
“I didn’t want to do it,” said a somber Tia Thieman, 8, a Newman Lake girl who wore most of her dinosaur Popsicle. “My mom made me.”
The young racers walked around in socks, their shoes too big for the tiny cars with cramped noses. And they relied on good-luck charms, like a stuffed moose, a lucky penny or a 13-ball plucked from a pool table, somewhere in the greater Spokane area.
“I can’t tell you where I got it, but I got it two weeks ago,” said Annie Robinson, 13, a Loon Lake derby veteran who held the 13-ball in her No. 13 car.
Annie’s mother, Marchette Momb, is the big reason for last weekend’s races. Momb, active in the Spokane Soapbox Derby Association, decided that Spokane-area youths needed more races to be competitive elsewhere.
Many of the kids racing over the weekend talked like old pros, of watching their competitors and copying tactics. They talked about good sportsmanship and strategy.
They overcame obstacles, like a bloody nose and a superstock car trapped in Cleveland.
Momb’s niece, Ashley Momb, 9, soared down the hill despite a bee sting above her left eye, just before the race. She lost, and her eye was an angry golf ball with a slit in the middle.
“It hurt lots,” she said. “I just didn’t want to quit.”
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