Plains, Texas, racer Mary Kay Ragan steers her soapbox car during the 2019 Marble Falls Soapbox Classic. Ragan is organizing a new Downtown Soapbox Derby after organizers from the previous event were denied permits by the city last year. Courtesy photo
Permits for a new soapbox derby were recently approved by the city of Marble Falls, paving the way for races Oct. 30-31. Although the event has faced some local controversy, nine racers have already committed to participating.
“The old event used to average about 25 racers,” said this year’s organizer Mary Kay Ragan. “It’s only May, and we’ve got nine. I’m sure more will sign up as we get closer to the event.”
Previously, an annual derby event was hosted by the National Adult Soapbox Derby Association, a Marble Falls organization founded by local resident Shannon Heep and others 11 years ago. That group was denied permits for what would have been their 10th Marble Falls Soapbox Classic in 2020 after disagreements with city officials over event scheduling could not be settled between the two parties.
In an attempt to keep the derby tradition alive, Ragan, who has raced in several Marble Falls derbies, began organizing a new and shorter Downtown Soapbox Derby designed to accommodate requests made by the city, including not bringing in outside vendors whose booths previously blocked Main Street storefronts. The new derby will also be two days long rather than three, which was another city request.
Permits for the new derby were approved on April 13, according to City Secretary Christina McDonald.
The original derby organizers issued a statement of disappointment.
“We are saddened that our participants are being contacted by a competitor and that Marble Falls appears to be moving forward with plans to replace our NASDA certified soapbox derby event that is a community legacy,” Heep said in the statement.
Marble Falls resident and longtime derby racer Taylor Smith said he is happy to see local derbies making a comeback, despite the change in organizers.
“From the outside, I think it’s strange that (the city) granted one group a permit but not the other, but I do look forward to seeing how it goes,” Smith said.
Smith participated in all 10 years of the previous event and even helped plan the Marble Falls Soapbox Classic. However, he took a step back from helping last year to spend more time with his family. Smith said he is familiar with Ragan from past races.
Normally, Smith partnered with friend Grant Dean on races. Because of Dean’s recent death, Smith will not participate in races this year but plans to attend the event.
Fort Worth racer Paul Wells helped Heep write rules for the derbies, pulling from his 58 years of experience. He petitioned alongside Heep to keep the old event running after participating for the past seven years.
“(The city) was making it so hard for Shannon that she just had to throw her hands up,” Wells said. “It’s a huge thing for the city not to have us there.”
Wells said he was recruited to help write rules for this year’s event as well but chose to step away after he and the new organizers disagreed on weight restrictions and other details. He believes the new event will be more of a party than a serious race. He said he will not be participating.
Who runs the event won’t keep Andrew Ybarra, a Cedar Park-based racer who has participated in Marble Falls derby races since 2015, from racing. As far as Ybarra is concerned, what matters most is the experience.
“It’s pure Americana and absolute fun,” Ybarra said.