Retro Charlotte

The 1956 Charlotte Soap Box Derby

And the winner is ... named on the last slide!
And the winner is ... named on the last slide! The Charlotte News

From 1946 until 1991 Charlotte’s Soap Box Derby was a summer tradition. Races were originally held run on Elizabeth Avenue, then Hawthorne Lane, and finally at a new track on Tyvola Road.

Here’s an excerpt from a 1986 story by Observer reporter Rich Haag: “In the local derby's heyday in the late 1950s and 1960s, races down Elizabeth Avenue drew fields of more than 100 racers and crowds of 10,000 to 14,000 spectators. Drew Hearn, the 1947 champion for whom the present track is named, became Charlotte derby director in 1961. He immediately began lobbying the city council for a permanent track, arguing that street racing handicapped Charlotte racers when they went to Akron. The council approved the Tyvola Road site in February 1966.

“A local volunteer surveyed the Akron track to get the measurements for the Charlotte facility. A builder donated the shed. Contractors donated equipment and supplies. Three car dealers pitched in $7,500. Charlotte Optimists sold 12,000 $1 raffle tickets. Eight thousand spectators covered the dirt slopes of the new track on July 31, 1966, to watch Bruce Dycus win the first derby at the new track. Last year's race drew 1,500. What happened? Current board member Bill Hartis, who raced in the early 1960s, says the decline began with the 1972 loss of national sponsor Chevrolet. Chevrolet, which was spending $500,000 a year, pulled out because of the cost. It accelerated with a national cheating scandal in 1973 (the U.S. winner was disqualified after officials found an electromagnet in the nose of his car) and with the loss of Hearn after the 1975 race. Hearn, who felt cars should be totally child-built, had grown disillusioned with the increasing amount of help some parents were giving.”

The Tyvola Road track closed in 1991 due to dwindling interest.