Rookie at 73 returns for Portland Adult Soapbox Derby

Portland Adult Soapbox Derby set for August 19

Dennis Hart, 74, is competing again in the Portland Adult Soapbox Derby, July 17, 2017 (KOIN)
Dennis Hart, 74, is competing again in the Portland Adult Soapbox Derby, July 17, 2017 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland’s annual event for the city’s biggest kids-at-heart is just a month away.

The Portland Adult Soapbox Derby is set for August 19 at Mt. Tabor Park. Dozens of teams will race their hand-built, motor-free cars down the hill in front of thousands of fun-loving fans.

One of those racing is 74-year-old Dennis Hart. It’s only his second year in the adult derby, but he’s far from inexperienced. He competed as a child, and said he was only seconds away from soapbox glory.

“As a youngster I raced in the Soapbox Derby for 4 years, and came very close to going to the finals in Akron, Ohio,” said Hart. “I still have dreams about that experience, going down the hill at 35 miles an hour.”

“Is this riskier than sitting on your couch watching television? Yeah. It’s not near as risky as bungee jumping or jumping out of airplanes.” — Dennis Hart

Last year, he resurrected that dream as a reality, by racing down Mt. Tabor in the adult contest.

“I’m sort of reliving my childhood,” he said. “I always remember that. And it’s the same thing. The wind and the wheels sing to you. It’s quite a thrill.”

Despite his past experience, Hart said he wasn’t prepared for just how much of a thrill the ride can be, especially on a run like Mt. Tabor, which has some pretty tight turns.

“I remember the first time I did it, I was pretty naïve about what was going to happen,” he said. ““The thing is rattling and shaking and yawing and you’re thinking ‘Oh my God, I’m going go off [the track]!’”

But the danger, Hart said, it part of what makes soapbox racing so exhilarating.

Dennis Hart, 74, is competing again in the Portland Adult Soapbox Derby, July 17, 2017 (KOIN)
Dennis Hart, 74, is competing again in the Portland Adult Soapbox Derby, July 17, 2017 (KOIN)

“Risk is the price you pay for opportunity,” he said. “Is this riskier than sitting on your couch watching television? Yeah. It’s not near as risky as bungee jumping or jumping out of airplanes.”

Hart races in The Hawksbill Flyer, a Seahawks-themed car he built himself. Last year, he qualified 7th out of 55 racers in his rookie year in the adult derby. It was an impressive showing, but he’s aiming higher this August.

“I thought we did fine,” he said. “This year we’re going to do better. We’re heavier, we’ve added weight… and these wheels are the fastest wheels anywhere.”

Cars in the derby usually go more than 30 or 40 miles per hour, sometimes verging on 50. And in Portland, derby competitors add that classic Portland flair. Some cars look more like parade floats than speed demons, and the event itself is a pretty big party.

“The Portland Soapbox Derby is as different from the American Soapbox Derby as Mardi Gras is to the parade at Disneyland,” said Hart. “It’s very adult, but within reasonable restrictions.”

Though it is meant for adults, the derby can be family friendly. Organizers say if you bring you kids, make sure to keep a close eye on them and keep everyone off the track. They also warn against bringing pets.