Backseat driving doesn’t always require the presence of an actual backseat.
A 7-year-old by the name of Araya Weeden found this out the hard way on Sunday morning, hurtling down Allegheny Street in a little red car on loan from the DuBois All-American Soap Box Derby.
Araya was performing pretty well for her first time behind the wheel of — well, anything — managing to avoid the siren song of the little orange cones formalizing the division between dual lanes of competition.
With that in mind, none of the spectators lined up outside of the Centre County Historical Museum appeared the least bit concerned when it became evident that Araya was due to arrive at the finish line well behind her opponent.
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They did, however, seem ever so slightly alarmed when she showed no sign of slowing down.
“Brake! BRAKE!” said voices coming from every direction.
Even in the madcap world of a soap box derby, there’s something to be said for the ability to follow directions. Araya hit the brakes, gliding to a safe stop at the bottom of the hill.
Whenever I saw a cone, I was trying to turn and not hit the cone.
Araya Weeden, age 7
Lest anyone be tempted to chalk all of this up to beginner’s luck, rest assured that there was, in fact, a keen and pervasive sense of strategy at play.
“Whenever I saw a cone, I was trying to turn and not hit the cone,” Araya said.
So there you go.
Youthful victories aside, the sundrenched Sunday morning was a special occasion in its own right, the first time in 27 years that the derby visited the hills of Bellefonte.
Allegheny Street has changed since then — for that matter so has race Director Alan Uhler. Then, he was just another driver riding a soap box over a bumpy concrete road. Now he’s got the whole operation wrapped around his fingertip.
“Some people might consider us crazy but we love what we do. We get to spend a lot of time with our kids,” Uhler said.
Common interests are helpful in that regard. All three of Uhler’s children race, providing him with a finer appreciation for the neuroses that can plague newbies at the gate.
Some people might consider us crazy but we love what we do. We get to spend a lot of time with our kids.
Alan Uhler, race director
He spent the bulk of his morning at the intersection of Allegheny and Linn Street, helping anxious drivers get settled at the starting line.
Uhler was still there by the time Araya made her third trip to the top of the hill, holding onto a healthy skepticism that a safe arrival was awaiting her in the parking lot below.
“If you get scared, put your brake down. Let me see it,” Uhler told her.
Araya once again demonstrated that she knew exactly how the brake worked. Satisfied, Uhler prepped her for launch.
She was smiling when she took off — nervous, yes, — but what better indicator that you’re having the time of your life?
“I was a little bit scared but I was excited,” Araya said.