The Suburbanite
  • Soap Box Derby tradition rolls on for local family

  • The Nettles family has a long tradition of participation in the Soapbox Derby. From the time "Uncle" Dick Nettles headed down the hill from 1953-58 to the Derby debut this year's racer, 14-year-old Maria Fahey, the family has seen 11 members take part in the sport.

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  • The Nettles family has a long tradition of participation in the Soapbox Derby. From the time "Uncle" Dick Nettles headed down the hill from 1953-58 to the Derby debut this year's racer, 14-year-old Maria Fahey, the family has seen 11 members take part in the sport.
    Maria is the first of 11 family racers to qualify for the All-American event.
    Many of the family's past family derby racers will be on hand to watch Maria participate in the 76th All-American Soap Box Derby July 27. It is not tough to tell who her biggest fan is. That would be here mother, Cindy (Nettles) Fahey, who raced in 1986-88.
    Cindy said her daughter's enthusiasm for the derby came from watching Corbin Bernsen's Derby movie, "25 Hill," being made in the area.
    "I was not in the movie, but was in the bonus features," Maria said. "I was watching them make the movie and I wanted to do it (race). I thought it was interesting and looked exciting," Maria said.
    "We had to hear about it for almost a year," Cindy Fahey said. "When the filming was happening that was all we heard, how she wanted a car for Christmas."
    As Maria put it, she "flipped out" when she found the derby wheels under the Christmas tree. She later received the kit to build the car.
    That is when it really became a family affair. Her uncles Dick and Bill Nettles got involved along with her grandfather, Joe Fahey, to help build the car.
    "It is not like it was in the old days," Dick Nettles said. "We had the wheels and the axels and we had to build the rest."
    Bill Nettles said building a car has become a family endeavor and a bonding experience. All of the cars are built the same way and are to weigh 240 pounds when completed so that no one has an advantage because of their car. That means the skill of the racer makes the difference in the outcome.
    Maria's car cannot be missed, as it is painted like a Dalmatian. The dog car, as it is referred to by other racers, was painted by Jack Mills, who has painted many derby cars over the years. Several ideas for the paint job were considered, but Mills painted the car as a Dalmatian. He painted the dog's face on the racer freehand and said the idea came to him because the sponsor of the car is Hattie Larlham's Doggie Day Care.
    Maria did not know what her car was going to look like until she saw pictures of it that Mills had posted on Facebook, but she was very happy with the outcome.
    Family members worked on the mechanics of the along with Maria, who was very hands-on in assembling the steering, sanding, applying the Tung oil, putting on the wheels and helping with the axels. Maria said it was a lot of fun building the car, but it was difficult.
    Page 2 of 2 - HOW IT BEGAN
    Dick Nettles was the first family member to race, getting involved in the sport in 1953 when a friend at school who was going to race showed Dick his car.
    "I was amazed and went home and discussed it with my dad. It was a discussion that became border-line argument, but he finally did say OK," Dick recalled.
    The neighbor, who owned an auto body business, sponsored him. "Back then it was about $20. Now, it is $1,000," he added. With the guidance of his father, he built the car and even raced his brother Bob at one point.
    Back then, the race took place in the opposite direction of the way it is run in the present day. A ramp was built at the north end and competitors raced toward the finish line in the opposite direction.
    Maria Fahey is looking forward to race week and all the fun things she and her fellow racers will be doing. "I can't wait to meet people from other countries," she said. She has won various awards through racing, but she loves being a part of the Super Kids program for disabled children, where she has the opportunity to take someone down the hill with her in a two person car.
    Cindy Fahey remembers when she raced, her father and Bill Nettles spent a lot of time on the ground under her car while it sat at the top of the hill, trying to tinker and help her have the best car possible before she headed down the hill. She received the sportsmanship award the first year she raced in 1986, but said the relationships between racers were different back then.
    "It was different then. We were more competitive in the fact that we did not talk with each other like they do now. It is a much friendlier atmosphere. We didn't have that bonding, but I had a lot of fun doing it," she said.
    Maria has made many friends through the sport and often hugs her fellow competitors after the race. Both mother and daughter all agree the friendly atmosphere of today's race is great.
    Although only one member of the family will be physically driving the car down the hill in the All-American Soap Box Derby, in their hearts, they all will be in the driver's seat. Tradition and family best represent the derby and what it is about. It is the same story Bernsen portrayed in the movie "25 Hill" with the intent to keep the tradition alive. For the Fahey family, that tradition rolls on.

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