Gravity Racers Speed Through Vader

Competition: Racers in Homemade and Expertly Engineered Derby Cars Accelerate Small Town Spirit and Sportsmanship

By Amy Nile / anile@chronline.com

Kevin Flynn has a vision for Vader.

The Vader city councilor brought the second annual Gravity Races to the small South Lewis County town on Saturday.

“It changed the attitude of the town,” Flynn said.

Flynn created the Gravity Races, which are similar to a soap box derby, to bring a lighthearted spirit to Vader last year.

“It’s just a fun event,” he said. “It gets the kids off the streets and gets them doing something.”

The 2013 races featured both home-built and engineered cars competing for first place, racing down Highway 506 at the steep east entrance to the city.

Sam Smith, 14, of Napavine, and Steven Barnes, 14, of Winlock, worked together to build a car for the experimental category.

“It was kind of difficult,” Smith said, noting the boys received help from their sponsor, Ace Hardware of Napavine.

The two worked with boards, plywood and bike tires to build their ride in just two days, completing the process with a test drive.

“It goes fast,” Barnes said.

Derby cars must meet certain requirements, such as adequate steering, braking and safety restraints. The cars must measure about 6 feet by 3 feet with wheels no more than 12 inches.

Devon Schey, 13, of Vader, built his car to compete in experimental category in only three days.

Three age classes competed to include youth, teens and adults.

“They were all excited about it,” Flynn said.

One of the younger racers, Reece Gregg, 8, of Castle Rock, came prepared with a strategy and his sights set on winning a remote-controlled helicopter.

“Keep it straight,” he said. “But I really just want to have fun.”

Gravity Race cars can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour or more.

“Sometimes it’s scary,” said Zach Smith, a gravity racer. “If you start swerving you might run into the ditch.”

The 11-year-old nearly crashed his car this year, giving the crowd quite a scare.

“We almost had a terrible accident but it didn’t flip,” Flynn said. “He saved it.”

Zach came along with his cousin, Wyatt Smith, who was in town from California to visit their grandfather, Vader Mayor Ken Smith.

“This is definitely one of the highlights,” Wyatt, 12, said.

The mayor said he decided to bring in “expert engineering” for the 2013 races after building his own car last year.

“We came in second — to last,” he joked. “The competition is fierce.”

The contest included 25 prizes, such as camping equipment, a radio controlled helicopter, gift certificates and other recreational items.

Flynn said he hopes the event will grow each year.

“It’s being done to bring some excitement to a small town,” he said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

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Amy Nile: (360) 807-8235

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