It’s the Wooden Car Derby! This annual event originally was held as part of Hopewell Community Day in the 1980s, and then continued with the same team as part of the successor Hopewell Harvest Fair event.
And we have over 25 fun photos of the action, from five different years during the period of 1983 to 1999.
The images show scenes from the event – kids and cars, the amazing variety of car designs (since the cars were judged on design as well as speed), the careful check-in and weighing process, the long track, and the finish line and timing mechanism.
== View the Wooden Car Derby images in the Image Gallery ==
The Wooden Car Derby was chaired by Bob Milwicz from at least the 1983 Community Day through the 2006 Harvest Fair. Milwicz designed and managed the race timing system, using electronic controls for fractional second accuracy. The team that set up and ran the event also included Dick Sudlow and Roger Labaw (who kindly provided these photos).
The Car Derby
Wooden Car Derby cars were made from the Boy Scout Pinewood Derby Kit. The object of the derby was to build the fastest car. The small wooden cars were 7 inches long, could weigh a maximum of five ounces, and were powered only by gravity. Cars could be as simple as a wedge of pine or as complicated as the designer chooses.
Prizes donated by local merchants were awarded for the fastest, slowest and best looking cars. There were four racing classes: cars made by children alone, cars made by child-adult teams, cars made by anyone over the age of 12 years, and an advanced class for “perfectionist” car builders.
Car kits were available at the Hopewell Pharmacy, the Public Library, Vincenzo ‘s Pizza and Family Restaurant, and Karen’s at Brookside.
Bob Milwicz provided tips for car racers in a 1989 letter to the Hopewell Valley News:
The main thing you need to do to make a good racing car (Wooden Car Derby style) is to make the wheels smooth. This is best done with the help of parents, using an electric drill (and safety glasses.) Put a wheel in the drill chuck and rub the wheel with a piece of sandpaper as it turns. In the past l have offered, and offer again this year, to turn the wheels on my miniature lathe for Wooden Car Derby entrants.– Hopewell Valley News, 8/10/1989
Other improvements to the cars include polishing the small nails that make the axles with a non-abrasive cleaner like Soft Soap, and filing off the small bur under the head of the nail. Weights, like washers, nuts or coins should be added to the car until it weighs five ounces at most.
Car Derby History
Hopewell Community Day was sponsored by the Hopewell Business Associates, and held in the area around what was then Princeton Bank (now PNC Bank) at 62 East Broad Street. As shown above, the 1983 Wooden Car Derby event was held in the drive-in area on the side of the bank, under the overhang. (The 1981 program does not mention a car derby event.)
The Hopewell Harvest Fair then was started in 1987, and was originally sponsored by the Hopewell Business Association. It also was held in the area around Princeton Bank, with the Derby event an the drive-in.
The Harvest Fair moved to the Hopewell Elementary School in 1989, and the Wooden Car Derby event was held in the school auditorium / gymnasium off the back of the original main building that faces Princeton Avenue.
In 1996, the Fair was spread out along West Broad from Louellen to Greenwood, and south to Princeton Avenue. The Derby was held in the firehouse that year – although we do not have any photos from then.
The Fair moved back to the Elementary School in 1997, and the Derby moved to the cafeteria in the new school addition.
The Milwicz team retired from running the Derby after the 2006 year. After a hiatus in 2007, the Derby continued at the Harvest Fair under new leadership.
We have an almost complete collection of Harvest Fair Almanacs and Community Day brochures from 1981 to 2020.
These are digitized and searchable – over 1100 scanned pages.
- We are missing the 2003 Harvest Fair Almanac –
Does anyone have a copy?
- And any leads on 1980’s Community Day pamphlets?
(We have 1981 and 1983)
And does anyone have similar materials for Pennington Day and the like?
More on the Harvest Fair
- The Game of Hopewell from the 1985 Hopewell Community Day
- 1939 Hopewell Carnival and Hopewell Fairs and Carnivals
Harvest Fair Almanacs
- Harvest Fair Almanacs and Community Day brochures – from 1981 to 2020
All digitized and searchable – over 1100 scanned pages.
- View the Harvest Fair Almanacs in the Pamphlet Collection
Harvest Fair Images
- View the Harvest Fair album (and Community Day) in the Image Gallery
- View Wooden Car Derby images in the Image Gallery