When 11-year-old Heagan Holmes first sat huddled, head down and ready to race at the starting line of Beaumont’s 2012 soapbox derby competition, she couldn’t have known her first race would eventually lead to international fame.
But as she zipped over the line and into second place, the $1,500 college scholarship that came with the second-place finish was more than enough to satisfy Heagan’s family when they look back to when it all started.
“They asked me if my daughter would be interested in doing it because they had a car that wasn’t being used. At the time, I told them, ‘Heagan is into dance and dolls and cheerleading and I don’t see her at all wanting to have anything to do with this,’” said Heagan’s father, Mark Holmes. “Well, I asked her and of course, she started bouncing off the walls, oh heck yes. So we entered the local soapbox derby here in Beaumont, and low and behold, she took second place.”
With the $1,500 under her belt, Heagan wasn’t done. With the help of the Spindletop Rotary Club, Heagan went to the 2013 competition and took the gold.
“She won first place this year, which blew us away,” Mark said. “I would’ve never believed it. I thought the first year was a fluke and there was no way we could top that, but we did.”
With the first-place win, Heagan — now 12 years old — received another $2,000 scholarship and was automatically eligible for the All-American Soapbox Derby international championship race in Akron, Ohio.
After rising to the status of international competitor in a matter of only two years, Heagan’s family scrambled to prepare for the races. It seems some local donors were happy to oblige.
Spindletop Rotary paid to have Heagan’s car crated and shipped both ways to and from Akrin, Ohio, and provided $1,000 to Heagan’s family for expenses they would surely incur while traveling to the competition.
Once in Ohio, Heagan proudly displayed her car built by Oil City Tractors of Beaumont, making last-minute changes and tweaks to the car’s steering, braking and weight to maximize her car’s downhill run. It seems soapbox derby is a little more involved than one might think.
“There’s a lot more to a race than just getting in and driving down a hill. Every car has to meet the same specs, and there are several inspections throughout the week that you have to go through to make sure everything is right. These cars and drivers can’t weigh over 200 pounds, but you want it as close to that as possible,” Mark said. “We were at 199 to 200 throughout the week. It’s a matter of having the weight distributed correctly, because it’s a pretty steep hill with a fairly long straightway at the bottom of the hill. If you don’t have the weights right, you can get down the hill fast, but when you get to the straightaway, everybody’s gonna pass you up. Also, you may be last down the hill, but you pick up a lot of speed on the straightaway. There’s a little bit of science involved and physics involved that determine how to do your weights.”
If a car and driver go over 200 pounds, the racer is disqualified.
“It was so close, we were trying to determine if she was going to wear a certain pair of shoes or another pair of shoes because there was a few ounces difference,” Mark said.
Saturday, July 27, Heagan approached the starting line in Akron, Ohio, ready for anything. She wouldn’t take first place, but Beaumont’s newest world-class soapbox racer came pretty darn close.
“The last race she lost by about a foot,” Mark said.
Second place win at the international races in Ohio not only makes Heagan Holmes second in the world in the Stock Soapbox racing class (ages 6-12), but it also makes Heagan the only Texan to place in the top nine of the international competition since it started in 1934.
“It’s a true world championship,” Mark said. “There were 111 teams from all over the world that came in and competed.”
It seems that Heagan is hooked. The racer plans on acquiring a new car and will move up into the next Super Sport class to begin her race for next year’s gold in Beaumont’s annual race at the Maury Meyers Bridge over Interstate 10 in May 2014. If she wins, she could add to an already growing college scholarship fund.
“I’m still smiling, because with that first place, it’s a little bit bigger trophy and the first year she won a $1,500 scholarship and this year with a first place she won a $2,000 scholarship, so I’m $3,500 further along,” Mark said. “That’s pretty good.”