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Slightly OT but anybody else here run in the Soap Box Derby?


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I started with unpowered "gigs" which got fairly sophisticated by the time I was 10,  graduated to Soap Box Derby,  then go karts and mini bikes,  a couple of snowmobiles and then got within hailing distance of my license and went all in on cars/girls, forgetting the previous stuff.


Back in the mid 70s when I participated in the All American Soap Box Derby there were two divisions,   Senior for scratch built cars,   and Junior for a kit car that you assembled.   Rule books for each were about 30 pages.    You ran provided axles and wheels,   a weight limit for car and driver (recalling 250?)  and strict dimensional limits.     Every summer around June or July you would have regional races - around 100 - the winners of which would go to Akron Ohio for the Championship race.     Besides the All American,  there were regional "Rallys" that were typically in the fall which would 40 or 50 cars for day doing double elimination until you had a winner.

 

 

In 1976 I built my Junior car as a 11 year old,   got knocked out in two heats.    In 1977 I built my Senior car,  crashed it on the first heat (never adjust steering without testing) and then won the next 8 heats to run through the losers bracket and take the Mass State Championship.      Went to Akron for the championships in August.

 

Here are a few pictures from the Mass race.   First picture is a starting ramp at the top of the hill,  2nd one is me croaking the poor kid in the other lane on my first heat.   Third is the championship heat.    I think I head to beat him twice since I was coming out of the losers bracket.

 

 

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Edited by alsancle (see edit history)
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Built one for our oldest daughter in the late 1990's, won the Best Looking award. That was back when I was into AACA Judging, remember there was a lot of driving that weekend. Soap Box deal Friday night, drove to a meet some where mid dark Saturday morning then back home for the Sunday Race. AACA judging started to lose its luster around that time. Car is downstairs, I'll take some photos. Bob 

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Doing one of those races was a dream for me as a kid. I remember the finals being on Wide World of Sports on a Saturday afternoon. Never did it in an organized race, but we had a slight hill on our street and pop being a contractor, we always had lots of scrap wood and would take apart old lawn mowers we would scrounge for the wheels. We made plenty of 'coaster cars', most only lasted 1 run or 2 then back to the drawing board.

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9 minutes ago, TAKerry said:

Doing one of those races was a dream for me as a kid. I remember the finals being on Wide World of Sports on a Saturday afternoon. Never did it in an organized race, but we had a slight hill on our street and pop being a contractor, we always had lots of scrap wood and would take apart old lawn mowers we would scrounge for the wheels. We made plenty of 'coaster cars', most only lasted 1 run or 2 then back to the drawing board.

 

People probably don't realize now how big a deal that "All American Soapbox Derby Championship" race was back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.   The track "Derby Downs" is located next to the blimp hanger at the Goodyear plant in Akron.

 

See the source image

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So the championship race was actually a championship week.      All the local winners showed up on the Sunday before the race,   had a big parade in downtown Akron and then stayed at Camp-Y-Noah for the week.

I stayed in the middle cabin.  My first and only time going to camp.  

 

 

 

 

Camp Y-Noah - Digital Commonwealth

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Yep, back in the late '50s our home town Arbutus Md. on the Forth of July the town closed the paved main road which had a great long hill and set up a starter ramp. Any Kid that could talk his Dad into building a Soap Box with steering and a hand brake could enter. Graphite Powdering the wheel axles made the difference for us to beat the others every year. Each Kid entered got a Silver Dollar for trying, winners got a small trophy. 

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While we stayed at the camp,  the cars were all impounded in the big shed at Derby Downs.   Each day the entrants would get bused from Camp-Y-Noah to Derby downs.    The schedule was something like this:

 

Monday - Inspection

Tuesday - Weigh In

Wednesday - Trial Run

Thursday - tune up

 

Saturday - Race day.

 

Here is a picture of me on weigh in day,  and trial run.   They moved the starting line down the hill as the cars got faster over the years,  so they walk the cars from the top down to the line.   After they put the cars on trucks to bring back to the top using an outside road.

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SoapBoxDerbyChampionshipWeighIn-Small.jpg

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The regional races are all double elimination two car heats,  but the All American Championship is single elimination 3 car heats.   You are there for a week and then it is all over in 40 seconds.   Here is the  starting line and finish line for my heat.   I think I nosed the 3rd car by a few inches.   Forget how far the guy that won the heat got,  but I think he made it at least another round.SoapBoxDerbyChampionshipStartingLine-Small.thumb.jpg.5a3af9bcfa985ef84e49ebe8d74c75ad.jpgSoapBoxDerbyChampionshipFinishLine-Small.thumb.jpg.c8426c931b94934c5d60241a939a0123.jpg

Edited by alsancle (see edit history)
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I had always heard of the Soap Box Derby as a kid, and like others have mentioned, it was something I had dreamed about doing, but I wasn't aware of any local competitions in my city back then...or even my state. None of my friends back then had heard of any local races either. Thanks for the great pictures, especially of the big event in Akron. What a crowd!

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In Massachusetts the race had been held Waltham for most of the 70s.   Like most things involving kids,  the parents of those kids involved do all the work.  Putting on a race was a lot of work.   So either 78 or 79 the race moved to Worcester and some newer parents got involved with help from the last batch.    But first, in the fall of 77 they had a Rally race.   The issue for me was that no champion cars were allowed to race which bummed me out.    The thing about Soap Box derby,  was that you out grew your car rather quickly.   In fact,  by the fall things were getting tight for me,   and my car wasn't engineered to fit me down to the last millimeter like some of them.   And once you go to the All American,  you are retired from racing that again.     The idea being to let other kids get a chance.    So I was pretty much done as soon as I started since I won my first year of Senior division.

 

The organizers of the rally gave me an exhibition run with Mass champion from 1976 who amazingly could still fit in her car.    The ramp picture shows my dad lining the car up.   Anybody that knows big Al will remark that he looks the same 40 years later.

 

Checkout the last picture.  You can see the gate dropping and it looks like my dad is giving me a push.   In a real race nobody would be allowed on the ramp but the driver and a volunteer.

 

 

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Edited by alsancle (see edit history)
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That's me standing in the middle. Coming from a small town in the country we dreamed of a Soap Box Derby. The Lions Club

started this but it never went as far as anything Alsancle was involved in. It was run on the steepest street in town and as I recall

quite well attended. Must have been early 50's, Sure miss those two guys.

Scan2020-11-17_144316.jpg

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9 hours ago, TAKerry said:

Question of the hour - Do you still have the car?

 

My dad has had it in his attic for the last 43 years.   I also have my brother's junior champ car and our final "best" car that was everything mine wasn't:  Beautiful, over engineered, and slow.

 

The idea has always been that I'll build a barn and mount the three of them on a wall like they were racing.   We'll see if that ever happens.

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2 hours ago, JAK said:

That's me standing in the middle. Coming from a small town in the country we dreamed of a Soap Box Derby. The Lions Club

started this but it never went as far as anything Alsancle was involved in. It was run on the steepest street in town and as I recall

quite well attended. Must have been early 50's, Sure miss those two guys.

Scan2020-11-17_144316.jpg

 

That is pretty cool.  

 

In retrospect I probably should have appreciated my parents support more and my luck in having a race within an hour drive of home.  Obviously I get it now.   I built my first car in our finished basement (what a disaster) and the champ car in a temporary lean to on the side of the garage my dad built for me.   The rule seemed to be 90/10 where the dad did most of the work and the kid was forced to help.   In my case my dad wanted to help more but I had my own ideas about how I wanted the car built and really did 90% of the work myself.   When I won, my dad really got in to it and literally moved his Duesenberg out of the garage so we could use that stall to build cars.

 

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3 hours ago, JAK said:

That's me standing in the middle. Coming from a small town in the country we dreamed of a Soap Box Derby. The Lions Club

started this but it never went as far as anything Alsancle was involved in. It was run on the steepest street in town and as I recall

quite well attended. Must have been early 50's, Sure miss those two guys.

 

John

Was your car steam powered?

Charley

 

Quote

John

Was your car steam powered?

Charley

 

 

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Here in Australia we call them "billycarts". I've never raced one, but as a kid made a few. Of course, although they went down the road, stopping them was another matter with lots of skin lost by barefooted kids. Then a few years ago, at a car event in southern New South Wales, at Yass they had a Billycart Derby which I believe is an annual event. Snapped a few photos.

 

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Billycart Derby3.JPG

Edited by Ozstatman
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Great thread...........I must admit.........we never "wasted" our time with something powered by gravity. I don't have any photos, but at 11 years old I built my first engine..........bought a Yamaha 2 stroke for ten bucks that looked like it went through a cement mixer.  I think it was going to be free but the old man wouldn't tolerate that so I had to give all my savings for it.  The deal with the old man was that only I could work on it..........without adult help. I could ask questions.....but that was it. I still remember the chain and sprockets were 76 bucks all in, and it took the whole summer working at 50 cents an hour to get the cash. Another lesson from the old man..........if you can't pay for it cash, you can't afford it. He was a smart guy.....smarter than most, and he managed to finished the 8th grade. He became the most successful of all his schoolmates............he self educated himself while raising a family and working two jobs. OLD SCHOOL.

 

We did build "go carts" which were old sit down lawn mowers we could find or buy close to home. We used a hacksaw to "lighten" them up for racing.....drove them all through the woods like we were the Dukes of Hazzard......but then we saw our first tractor pull..........so we started our own sanction in the neighborhood. When we started using the "everyday lawnmowers" and they broke...............that ended the tractor pulls.

Edited by edinmass (see edit history)
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1 minute ago, edinmass said:

Great thread...........I must admit.........we never "wasted" our time with something powered by gravity. I don't have any photos, but at 11 years old I built my first engine..........bought a Yamaha 2 stroke for ten bucks that looked like it went through a cement mixer.  I think it was going to be free but the old man wouldn't tolerate that so I had to give all my savings for it.  The deal with the old man was that only I could work on it..........without adult help. I could ask questions.....but that was it. I still remember the chain and sprockets were 76 bucks all in, and it took the whole summer working at 50 cents an hour to get the cash. Another lesson from the old man..........if you can't pay for it cash, you can't afford it. He was a smart guy.....smarter than most, and he managed to finished the 8th grade. He became the most successful of all his schoolmates............he self educated himself while raising a family and working two jobs. OLD SCHOOL.

 

Eddy,  I keep thinking I had a soft upbringing when you tell me about yours.

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12 hours ago, Ozstatman said:

Here in Australia we call them "billycarts". I've never raced one, but as a kid made a few. Of course, although they went down the road, stopping them was another matter with lots of skin lost by barefooted kids. Then a few years ago, at a car event in southern New South Wales, at Yass they had a Billycart Derby which I believe is an annual event. Snapped a few photos.

 

Billycart Derby1.JPG

Billycart Derby2.JPG

Billycart Derby3.JPG

 

That car is a very close approximation to a T-bucket!

 

The hay bales had me thinking.    We would really get moving, depending on the track,  but even the lesser grades you were going fast enough to really hurt yourself if you clipped a telephone pole the end of the 1000 foot track.    In today's "safety at all costs culture" I'm wondering how that would work.

 

On the other hand the cars all had really good braking systems and there was a very thorough inspection and certification prior to racing,  so I don't remember any bad crashes (besides me nailing the other guy in my first heat).

 

I'll post some pictures of the insides of the cars to show the steering and brakes.

 

 

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38 minutes ago, alsancle said:

 

Eddy,  I keep thinking I had a soft upbringing when you tell me about yours.

 

 

No AJ, my upbringing was very comfortable, but the lessons of the depression were passed on the all the children. Hard work, no credit, hard work, no credit. And the most famous of the lines....."My roof, my rules....don't like it, get your own roof." My parents were the best, and did me the biggest favor you can do for a child......get your ass out of bed, go to work. 

 

And the final lesson........"if you saw where your grandparents and parents came from..........you wouldn't be so proud." Years later we went back to where we were from in the north woods of Canada. I was flabbergasted at what I saw our cousins living in forty years later after my family got to Springfield. I will NEVER forget what I saw.........

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1 minute ago, edinmass said:

 

 

No AJ, my upbringing was very comfortable, but the lessons of the depression were passed on the all the children. Hard work, no credit, hard work, no credit. And the most famous of the lines....."My roof, my rules....don't like it, get your own roof." My parents were the best, and did me the biggest favor you can do for a child......get your ass out of bed, go to work. 

 

I had to work starting when I was 15,  not 9.   I still remember that conversation with my mom:  "So, what are you doing this summer?"  me:  "Why do you ask?".

 

But one big difference between us was when it looked like my buddy and I were going to screw up my GTO motor,  I sent it to Lib and I don't think I ever saw that bill.

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Here are a couple of pictures that show the insides of a junior car.   I think a junior car max weight was 200lbs,  which you wanted to get your car to exactly.   The weight stanchions were for distributing the weight evenly across the wheels.  You would put the car on 4 scales and depending on the track move weight around.   On a track with ramps you ran 10-15lbs tail heavy.   On a smoother incline you ran balanced.

 

Junior cars all had vertical steering wheels and scissor brakes.  Senior cars could be horizontal or vertical steering,  and many had plunger brakes mounted in the nose.

 

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IMG_7463.jpg

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1 hour ago, TAKerry said:

That car is a lot more complex than what I would have thought it to be. That would make a nice museum display.

 

Those inside pictures are a Junior car.   Every Junior car was cookie cutter and practically identical.   The Senior cars were another world.    I'm looking for more pictures of our last car.  It has a very sophisticated suspension system and aluminum air foils and stabilizers for the axles.

July 2014 Thumb Drive Dump 2856.jpg

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I didn't do soap box derby, but about 15 years ago there was a revival in my current town of Winchester Va.  There's a GREAT hill downtown on a very wide street, and interest was high.  

 

My son Austin was about 8 or9  at the time, and we ran a car for a couple of years.  It was sponsored by HP Hood, a dairy company, thus the attempt at a cow paint scheme and the slogan  "milk run"...

 

We never really did great, winning a few races but not getting up into the finals.  There are a LOT of tricks to making one of these things speedy, some of which are even legal under the rules.

 

I remember one year, at weigh in, Austin and car were about 6 ounces over weight, and all my removable weights were 5 pounds, a killer when you're dealing with Mean Mr. Gravity.  I had him run over to the Johnny Blues and pee, and he came back and was just under weight!

 

We had fun, but then they quit running it and it was over....

SBD Hood Coco 1.JPG

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28 minutes ago, trimacar said:

We had fun, but then they quit running it and it was over....

 

Soapbox derby is like all other kids sports and requires a lot of work by the parents.   The difference is that besides putting on the full day event, you have to build the cars and the activity is still just that one day.

 

Not to mention the gradual diminishing of mechanical skills.   I grew up with a dad that had a band saw, lathe, torches, full size compressor, etc, in the garage and that was not super unique.   These days it is.

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31 minutes ago, trimacar said:

I didn't do soap box derby, but about 15 years ago there was a revival in my current town of Winchester Va.  There's a GREAT hill downtown on a very wide street, and interest was high.  

 

My son Austin was about 8 or9  at the time, and we ran a car for a couple of years.  It was sponsored by HP Hood, a dairy company, thus the attempt at a cow paint scheme and the slogan  "milk run"...

 

We never really did great, winning a few races but not getting up into the finals.  There are a LOT of tricks to making one of these things speedy, some of which are even legal under the rules.

 

I remember one year, at weigh in, Austin and car were about 6 ounces over weight, and all my removable weights were 5 pounds, a killer when you're dealing with Mean Mr. Gravity.  I had him run over to the Johnny Blues and pee, and he came back and was just under weight!

 

We had fun, but then they quit running it and it was over....

SBD Hood Coco 1.JPG

 

 

Btw,  I love those colors!

 

At some point in I think the late 80s the derby went from steel wheels to plastic.   You didn't run your own wheels at the race and not everybody had a set of steel wheels.   They sold some cheap plastic ones (much cheaper than in your picture) that kids could build their cars around.

 

Picture 1 of 12

Picture 1 of 3

 

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It was not just the build and the day of the race, there was also an inspection day to make sure no rules were broken (and there are a lot of rules).  There are ways to make a car go faster down a hill, I never learned them, obviously.  The people that know the legal tricks and how to implement them do well.  The forbidden tricks are a little more risky, minor things they’d let you fix on inspection day, a blatant cheating attempt and it was zero tolerance.

 

Once a car was approved, the parent and driver didn’t see it again until race day, so no tricks after inspection.

 

Just an example, you can shim your axles so that the driver can shift weight, and only three wheels touch the ground, thus less rolling resistance. Not allowed by the way.

 

the most famous cheating trick was the winner of a 1970’s Derby.  There was a metal gate which held the cars and then flipped forward to start race.  Officials noticed the winner’s car seemed to jump forward when gate went down.  Turns out there was an electromagnet hidden in the nose of the car...

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2 hours ago, JACK M said:

They didn't allow graphite on the wheel bearings.

There will be cheating as long as there is racing.


If you have ever raced professionally..........it’s NOT cheating if you don’t get caught. 
 

Myself.......I like the Chinese Downhill. 

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Cub Scouts have a far cheaper version, a lot like the down hill racers I built as a kid. It was strange to watch at first, 7-8 year old's that were truly scared to roll down a hill, guess they don't explain it on a cell phone. My grandson was doing real well, one of the few that could ride a bike without training wheels, but he just keep hitting the brakes too soon. He finally got it when I explained the brakes could be applied half way up the opposite hill after he went through the finish line. China flue killed it for 2020. Bob

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I had an intense interest in the Soap Box Derby from the time I was 9.  Articles appeared frequently in the Evening Star, then the leading paper for the Washington, D. C. area including northern Virginia.  Reading them gave me some good tips, with pieces about past winners, the race site, and even about a boy building his car in his mom's apartment's kitchen. 
When 1941  came around and I heard the Derby was coming up, I hopped on my bike and rode to Kenyon-Peck Chevrolet in Clarendon, one of the local sponsors.  There I was given a copy of the 1946 Official Rule Book, and rushed home to devour it.   My hopes were dashed when I reached page 5, where a paragraph said that you had to be between 11 and 15 to be eligible.  Drat.  I would have to wait until '42, the next year, I thought, but lo and behold WWII caused cancellation of the Derby until '46!  I had hoped to be able to start early and hone my car building skills, trying to improve each year, but when resumption of the race finally came on '46 I was 15, the maximum age, and would have only the one shot at it.  I would be competing in class A with other 13, 14 , and 15 year 0lds.  Those 11 and 12 of age competed in class B.
I scurried back to the Chevy dealer to pick up the '46 rule book and buy official Soap Box Derby wheels, which cost $6 for a set of 4 with 2 axles and hubcaps.  By then no one was using old buggy wheels, or for that matter soap boxes either.  I had heard that all wheels were not equal in rolling ability and wobble so I bought 3 sets and picked out the best 4 by spin testing and returned the rest.  The wheels were the most expensive purchase.  Rules set a limit of $10 that could be spent on everything.  A suggested bill-of-materials enumerating hypothetical costs in the rule book came to a total of $8!  I had no trouble keeping within the cost limit and spent even less than that.  2 knotty old 2 x 8's were scrounged for free, to be joined together and shaped for the base.  More scrap lumber was found for the remainder of the structure, and miscellaneous hardware from pieces laying around such as pulleys and hinges were dug up, and pieces of scrap battleship linoleum to form the outside skin were dragged home from the office by my dad.  A steering wheel was saved from a derelict pedal car and old paints came off the basement work bench shelf.   In the day there were no such things as fiberglass, epoxy, or bondo, etc.
I had no access to any power tools.  Practically no one had so much as a 1/4" electric drill, much less a power saw in that early post-war era.  I used a hatchet, saws, a plane, a chisel, and other common hand tools.
Cars had to be "boy-built" from scratch, parents were allowed to only offer moral support, as if that could be enforced....  A rigid in-depth inspection was made to assure that cars met the requirements in the rule book.  That was when I learned for the first time that my and the car's weight combined was considerably below the limit, and no  additional ballast weights were permitted.   At this stage it seemed practically all you could do was eat lots of bananas.  Bummer, that put me at an uncalculatable disadvantage.  
Scary speeds were reached on the long hill at the race site out Pennsylvania Avenue, east of the Anacostia River in S. E. Washington D. C.  Participants were each loaned a WWII helmet liner for protection, and given a T shirt for keeps.
We competed 3 cars at a time, released simultaneously from a starting ramp.  There were 134 entrants in my class.  I won over my two competitors in the first heat, enabling me to stay for the second one which had narrowed down to 44 competitors.  Success came again, leaving me among only 15.  Once more good fortune came my way and now there were just 3 of us.  Unfortunately, my luck ran out and I was last in the definitive final run. 
It haunts me to this day whether more permissible weight would made the difference, and there were no more chances for this 15 year old.

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I found the picture of my championship heat.   The car I beat was way more sophisticated than my jalopy.   He was pretty bummed out.   If you look closely at the other car the driver can only see out of his right eye.  The cars were built to fit you for a short window and he had already outgrown the car as was twisted inside to get in.

ChampionshipRace1977.jpg

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I remember the derby when I was growing up.  The whole event was sponsored by The Chevrolet Motor Division.  I seem to remember that most Chevrolet dealers sold the wheel and axle kits.  I do not remember what else came with the purchase. 

 

Great community involvement activity that no longer is evident by big corporations today.

 

When I was a teenager, I participated for a couple of years in the Fisher Body Craftsman Guild building model cars.  Fisher Body, another division of General Motors and an activity that ended in 1967 and a division that no longer exists compliments of Roger Smith.

 

Both activities awarded college scholarships to the winners.

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