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Derby wanted to stay

By Staff | May 22, 2009

The director of the Ray Miller Memorial All-American Scholastic Soap Box Derby said this week that safety issues figured prominently in the decision to move the annual event to Ranson.

Race Director Thomas Miller said it was an oversight that the Corporation of Shepherdstown was notified only last week of the move, despite organizers’ March decision to relocate the event, which was slated to happen here on Washington Street on Memorial Day.

For four years, elementary-age racers competed on German Street, but concerns from the business community arose that the race blocked access to their customers. A compromise was reached to move two blocks over to Washinton Street. But when Miller inspected the street in March, he decided to call Ranson officials who had welcomed the race in their town.

“When I first looked at (Washington Street), I thought ‘I can make this work’,” Miller said. “The more I looked at it I was like ‘This is not safe.'”

“We really liked German Street, and we really liked the venue of Shepherdstown,” Miller said.

The race could have been an annual event in Shepherdstown for years to come if it had been embraced by the buisness community, Miller said, noting that to survive the event should be beneficial to all.

Organizers of the non-profit Soap Box Derby are “just parents wanting to do something nice for the kids,” Miller said.

The event will be held on Third Avenue in Ranson on Saturday, June 6.

This date is actually preferable, Miller said, noting few volunteers were available on the Memorial Day date.

Ray Miller, a retired Berkeley County teacher, was involved in Soap Box racing for many years. He came up with the idea for a local community race — a scholastic competition that would encourage racers who might not have otherwise had the chance to participate. By seeking out local sponsors for each car and selecting a driver from each school district racers would forgo the $500 – $1000 cost of buying a car.

Miller worked with local Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan County schools, where racers are chosen by their school based on good behavior and academic achievement. Racers must still build and qualify their own cars with the help of parents and derby volunteers.

The Ray Miller Memorial Scholastic race is licensed and sanctioned by the All American Soap Box Derby National Organization and is the first of its kind in the history of the AASBD.

The first scholastic race was held in Shepherdstown in May of 2005. Miller died the following year of esophageal cancer. Despite his medical condition, took time away from the hospital to participate in organizing the event. His family and race supporters continued his dream by successfully running the Second Annual Ray Miller Memorial Race in May of 2006. And, through the continued support of the town of Shepherdstown, business sponsors, Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan County schools and many volunteers, Ray’s dream is being kept alive. The 4th Annual race is scheduled for June 14, 2008.