Souderton boy wins national soap box title

Sunday, August 9, 2009

By Brendan Purves

To become champion in a downhill race, you have to be willing to make the uphill climb.

After jumping hurdles and pushing past adversity, Tyler Fleck, 12, of Perkasie, finished the grueling soap box season with a win in the rally stock division of the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, making him the rally stock champion of the world.

"It's between being a great driver and having the right car," Tyler's father, Ken Fleck, who also serves as president of the Indian Valley Soap Box Association, said about what it takes to become a world soap box champion.

"It just comes down to having a good team and being lucky when you're out there," he said.

Although good luck may have something to do with it, the Fleck family's week in Akron started out with some bad luck.

After failing an inspection early in the week, Ken and Tyler Fleck had to remove the floorboard of their car and rebuild the whole car, Fleck said.

The alterations were done in time for the championship week's final inspection, but making changes to the car would make even the most confident team nervous, particularly since Tyler won 18 of 24 rally stock events leading up to the All-American Soap Box Derby in that car.

The newly remodeled car ran a single test run two days before the championship races started, but Fleck said that one run was not enough to know if the new car would be able to race as well as the old car had raced all summer.

To win the title, Tyler had to beat out 65 racers in his rally stock division. To make it into the All-American Derby, racers had to accumulate no less than four rally stock wins in their region and participate in at least 20 races, so the competition was going to be fierce.

Although the competition always gets heated on race day, Tyler said that the reason he loves the sport of soapbox racing is the camaraderie that is built up between the young drivers.

"(The best part) is meeting people and creating friendships," Tyler said about his experience in Akron.

Beating the 65 other drivers meant winning four races in a row with the Fleck team's new car.

Tyler was able to win the first three races without much trouble, but the final race had him facing off against two of the best racers in the rally stock.

In the final race for the world championship, Ken Fleck stood at the starting line and watched Tyler fly down the hill at speeds between 30 and 35 mph toward the checkered flag.

At these high speeds, with all the pressure on Tyler to run a good race, he was calm and collected and put in the best performance of his young life.

"You don't really feel like you're going that fast," Tyler said about getting caught up in the thrill of the race.

From his vantage point, Ken Fleck could not tell which car was in the lead when the final three racers crossed the finish line, so he and the other parents waited anxiously to see the results go up on the score board.

"It was the greatest feeling in the world," Fleck said. "When they put lane one up (on the score board) I couldn't believe it. I started jumping up and down."

Tyler shared his dad's enthusiasm for the monumental win.

"I was really excited," Tyler said.

With the All-American Derby still close in their rearview mirror, Tyler and his father are now setting their sights on the upcoming fall season and defending Tyler's crown in the Keystone Rally Stock Championships.

After that, the Fleck team will start making perfections to their super stock car that they plan to race in the Souderton soap box derby next summer.