A soapbox derby like no other

Posted: June 2nd, 2017 | Features, Special Events, Top Story | No Comments

By Alex Owens

Getting up on your soapbox has never been as fun as this.

A STEAM student gets ready to hit the derby course at last year’s STEAM Festival in Little Italy. (Courtesy Washington Elementary School)

The third annual VanGo! Soapbox Derby and STEAM Festival is taking place June 10 at Washington Elementary School, providing what organizers believe may be Downtown’s premier summer family-friendly event.

“There aren’t that many kid-friendly events Downtown,” said William Sieve, a parent volunteer who is helping put the festival together. “We’ll have a fun zone, an obstacle course and between 15 to 20 booths where kids can paint, or build their own miniature racers.”

Now in its third year, the event is designed to raise money for the school, which emphasizes science and art along with the standard reading, writing and arithmetic. The emphasis on science and engineering will spill over to the soapbox derby.

Soapbox racers lineup up at the starting line. (Courtesy Washington Elementary School)

Like a traditional soapbox derby, the 16 cars will race down Date Street from Union to State. After that, comparisons end, according to Sieve.

“This is not a typical soapbox derby,” Sieve said. “It’s not just about who gets down a hill the fastest. We want the kids to use what they’ve learned in class, whether it’s science or engineering.”

Organizers hope to raise $40,000 to help fund STEAM-related school activities for the 2018 school year. Sieve credits community support for the school for helping to make that happen.

STEAM at work: Future soapbox racers learn to build their soapbox cars. (Courtesy Washington Elementary School)

“The local businesses are very supportive of the school,” he said. “And the guys who play bocce ball at Amici Park have even taught the kids to play. They will be holding a tournament during our event.”

The festival will run 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. right next to the Little Italy Mercato Market next door.

Chris Gomez, district manager of the Little Italy Association, said having both events together brings the community together.

“Through this event, Washington Elementary School allows students to show off their skills and talents in a fun and unique way and that’s important in our Little Italy community,” Gomez said in a press release.

Racers were taught to use science and engineering while designing their cars. (Courtesy Washington Elementary School)

For instance, local businesses are sponsoring the cars in the Soapbox Derby.

Along with the Derby, and the fun zone, there will be live music and visual arts performances, as well as food trucks, and a silent auction featuring items donated by many of the local businesses that have turned Little Italy into such a trendy neighborhood.

“This year, we’re also starting a car show,” Sieve said. “We’re also having the kids operate a lemonade stand to add to the neighborhood feel.”

For more information on VanGo!, to donate or to bid online at the silent auction, visit

—Alex Owens is a San Diego-based freelance writer. He can be reached at

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