Thrills, chills, and spills: Kids face off at Slope soapbox derby

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Photo gallery

FOUR THUMBS UP: Milo Turner, left, and Scott Sloan get ready to race their vehicle, which they dubbed “Wheels of Madness.”
SHOW AND TELL: Gael Garcia-Velez, left, shows his ride to his excited young pal Kingston Bennet before taking off down 17th Street.
OFF TO THE RACES: Max Grunebaum hurtles down 17th Street on his soapbox race car.
OUTTA MY WAY: Nathan Onderko wears his game face as he speeds down 17th Street.
PEANUT GALLERY: A panel of expert judges score a derby participant. The judges based their scores on a combination of engineering and creativity of each vehicle.
SPEED RACER: Maddie Abegg shows off her ride.
SETTING SAIL: Annick Hanson and Margot Ehrsam steer their wind-powered — and gravity-powered — contraption down 17th Street.
WITCH WAY TO PARK SLOPE?: Jolene Lower, left, and Maya Engstrom zoom down the hill dressed as the Wicked Witch and Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” respectively.
VICTORIOUS: Peter Baldwin, driver of the ingenious soapbox derby motorcycle, celebrates his big win.
ON A ROLL: Theo Spilko pilots his car, which he named “The Best Car Ever.”

It was a race to the bottom.

The annual Park Slope soapbox derby took over 17th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues on Sept. 6, with dozens of fearless kids hurtling down the hill in rattletrap vehicles of their own design and construction. The goal was simple, one speed racer explained.

“I just wanted to get down the hill as fast as I could,” said Park Sloper Nathan Onderko, 7.

About 30 kids showed up on Saturday to race their cars, which they built in workshops with Open Source Gallery, an art space on the same block as the big race. The contraptions came in all shapes and sizes, including a two-wheeled motorcycle and a rig outfitted with a sail and rudder.

Compared to some of the race cars at the derby, Onderko kept it simple with a low-slung, four-wheeled contraption, but the competition was inspiring, his mom said.

“He went pretty utilitarian this time, but next year we might go with more flair,” Emily Spilko said.

A panel of judges scored the racers from one to five in three categories — design, originality, and engineering — and, along with a fourth category — speed — each had a winner. And, of course, whoever got to the bottom of the hill first won the race.

The derby was the culmination of a series of week-long workshops over the summer that gave kids the chance to design and build their vehicles. In the workshops, the children drew up blueprints for their cars and got to pick from a “junkyard,” a pile of recycled materials and wheels. A crew of teenagers oversaw production of the cars, but the bulk of the work fell to the students, an organizer said.

“Obviously some of them need help, but we try to make sure that they have their hand on every screw that goes in,” gallery co-founder Monika Wuhrer said.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Elizabeth Velez from South Slope says:
Great pic but wrong name (not Hugo Baldwin). That is PS 10's Gael Garcia-Velez riding his cart the Puerto Rican Coqui!
Sept. 11, 2014, 7:20 am

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