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Upcoming Boxcar Derby stirs memories of Ellicott Ave. races

Aug 24, 2022

ATAVIA — Downtown Batavia Business Improvement District Executive Director Shannon Maute said she began hearing excitement about boxcar racing after talking to people in the community.

“The more people I spoke with, the more excitement I saw. Many people have these memories,” she said.

They’ll get their chance to relive those memories and watch today’s kids participate in boxcar races this Saturday when the BID Boxcar Derby takes place at the top of Ellicott Avenue. The finish line will be the other side of Park Avenue.

 

Twenty-eight kids will line up, two at a time, at the top of Ellicott Avenue and race the cars they’ve assembled — hoping to get first, second or third in the derby. First through third place will receive trophies.

The Boxcar Derby is set to start with its first race at 9:30 a.m. following check-in from 8:30 to 9:15 in Centennial Park. GLOW With Your Hands, along with the Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC), will sponsor 16 kids from the ages of 7-10 and 12 kids from ages 11-13. Kids must be 7 by Saturday and cannot be over the age of 13 on race day. Proof of age is required at check-in. Registration for the derby ended a while ago.

“We only purchased so many car kits, so we kept it to that amount,” said Maute.

One resident who served on the committee to plan Saturday’s derby is Gail Tenney. She grew up on Ellicott Avenue.

“Growing up, she remembers standing in her front yard, cheering on the racers as they raced down the street and past her house,” Maute said. “Ultimately, that is the goal. For kids this year, we are trying to bring these memories to another generation. We would like to encourage the families to come out, bring a long chair and cheer on the racers.”

Tenney said she lived on Ellicott in the 1980s.

“The annual Soap Box Derby stands out as one of the greatest memories of living there. I’m not sure of the exact year of the last race, but my memory would put it back to about 1983 or 1984,” she said. “I would have been 11 or 12 years old. Every family in town with school kids would descend upon Ellicott Avenue to watch the races for at least part of the weekend. People would set up their lawn chairs up and down the street and bring picnic baskets to spend the day. It was so fun to be at the epicenter of such a great event that drew so many people.”

 

Tenney said she’s excited to be a part of the committee to bring it back.

“I hope that kids in our community will experience the fun of being a part of the race, building their own cars and learning new skills. And if they aren’t participating it’s equally fun to watch their friends race and see the cars that the kids worked so hard on to build and decorate,” she said.

Maute said the kids who are in the derby picked up their boxcar kits earlier this summer during a Build Day in Jackson Square. She said the kids have had about a month to get their boxcars built. Anyone who picked up a kit and does not participate in the race will need to return the kit or be charged for the full purchase price of the kit.

“Some built them in Jackson Square and some took them home, and I also had a group of kids come to my house, and my husband and myself helped them build their cars,” Maute said. “I had a separate Build Day at my house for those who couldn’t make the Build Day in Jackson Square.”

The BID executive director said anyone can help the kids build their cars, but the kids have to use the car kits they were provided.

“They could decorate it, they could paint it,” she said. “It’s double-elimination, so each kid will race at least twice. Two cars go down at a time.”

Maute said she’s heard people talk about the derbies that used to take place here.

“It used to run on Ellicott Avenue. That seems to be everyone’s finest memory from when they were a child,” she said. “When I got the job (as BID executive director), I asked Matthew Gray to be on my Promotions Committee. He said he would, as long as we brought back the Boxcar Derby. He was kidding around, but I thought it was a great idea and it went from there.”

The GCEDC said Tuesday that the derby is an ideal opportunity for youth in Genesee County to learn hands-on skills as they build and race their box cars.

“GLOW With Your Hands and the GCEDC are excited to support these experiences. We believe that removing cost barriers for programs like the Box Car Derby,” said Jim Krencik, GCEDC marketing and communications director. “GLOW With Your Hands, Cornell in High School and the Genesee Valley Pre-Apprenticeship Bootcamp ensures that our youth have fun and impactful experiences that will ready them for the growing STEM, skilled trades and technician careers in our community.”

By Brian Quinn, thedailynews.com

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