Morgan Mertz, 14, of Steamboat Springs, checks her vehicle at the All-American Soap Box Derby championship July 26 in Akron, Ohio. Morgan finished in 19th place at the event.

John Mertz

Morgan Mertz, 14, of Steamboat Springs, checks her vehicle at the All-American Soap Box Derby championship July 26 in Akron, Ohio. Morgan finished in 19th place at the event.

Teen races into derby top 20

Morgan Mertz fares well among 140 Soap Box competitors

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— Morgan Mertz doesn't have any traditions or good-luck charms when it comes to racing in the Soap Box Derby. Perhaps that's because she doesn't need them.

Morgan, 14, placed 19th out of 141 racers in her division last weekend at the national All-American Soap Box Derby championship in Akron, Ohio.

She didn't come home with a trophy, but Morgan said the week-long experience was a blast. She has been there before when her brother, Landen, competed. Being a racer is far different from being a racer's sister, Morgan said.

When the youths arrive, they are treated like royalty, said John Mertz, Morgan's father and the organizer of this year's Yampa Valley Soap Box Derby. Racers get a police escort to the stadium, and they toss memorabilia from their home area to the crowd.

"It's a big fanfare," Mertz said.

Morgan earned her spot by winning the local competition, held in May in Hayden. She won her first race in Akron but lost the second.

"It was a photo finish, so it was pretty exciting," she said of the second competition. "I had fun, and that was all that mattered."

Morgan competed in the Super Stock Division. Derby rules require her to retire her car after the national competition. If she wants to participate in local races, she must build a car for the most advanced division, Master's. Local organizers also would have to drum up a total of six Master's Division competitors to have a race.

Morgan said it probably would be a couple of years be-fore she took on that challenge.

"Morgan did really, really well," Mertz said. "When she was bumped out, it was by about a hundredth of a second. It comes to that skill and technique. She's feeling great about it."

Morgan said she enjoyed the Super Kids Classic, a race that pairs youths with disabilities and youths without disabilities. The participants ride two to a car, so people who can't operate the vehicle still get to race. Mertz said he would like to host a Super Kids race with the Yampa Valley Soap Box Derby.

"It's just an opportunity for every kid to experience it," Mertz said. "It gives them the thrill of the race without having to manipulate the vehicle through the steering and the braking."

Mertz has pushed hard to promote the derby in Routt County. There was no local race last year, and his children had to travel from Steamboat Springs to Dillon. Mertz organized the race in Hayden with support from the Hayden Town Board, the American Legion and the police. He plans to have it there again next year.

Mertz said any local youths who are interested should participate. He and his wife, Victoria, have rounded up extra cars from across the state that can be remodeled for racing.

"If there's a will, there's a way," John Mertz said. "Any kid that really, really wants to race, we'll do anything we can to make it possible."

- To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234

or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com

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