MANSFIELD -- Fate played a huge role in Sammie Thompson's drive to Saturday's Super Stock division championship at the North Central Ohio Soap Box Derby.
The 12-year-old raced four years ago in the stock division, for younger drivers, but had not competed since. An announcement at Shelby Middle School changed all of that. The school had a soap box derby car available, and interested drivers were encouraged to apply for the chance to earn a ride. Thompson did just that, and when her name was drawn, a champion was born.
She took care of the rest, in an efficient manner. The soon-to-be 7th grader rolled through the field of 13 drivers, unscathed through the winner's bracket. She then met Margaret Restelli, the titlist of the challenger's bracket. Thompson claimed the first heat by .087 seconds. Restelli won the second heat in .077 seconds, but Thompson had the edge by .01 seconds, to earn the title.
"You have to find a lane on each side (of the street) that's the fastest and ride it," Thompson said. "I really wanted to get back into this. I felt pretty confident."
She earned a trip to Akron at next month's All-American Soap Box Derby on the famed Derby Downs course. She'll be joined by the Stock Division winner, 9-year-old Tanner Winningham.
The soon-to-be 4th grader at Stingel Elementary had a tougher path to victory lane. Like Thompson, the 9-year-old Winningham rolled through the winner's bracket, but when he met Challenger's bracket finalist Layla Van Harlingen, she knocked him off to force a run-off. Van Harlingen took the checkered flag of the first heat in .135 seconds, but Winningham blazed to the victory in the final race of the day in .170 seconds. That gave him the edge by .035 seconds.
"This is his first year, and his Dad and I helped build the car, so I guess e did a pretty good job," said Tanner's mother, Tonya Winningham.
Tonya also teaches in the Ontario City Schools district and is president of the teacher's union. Tanner's colorful, deep blue car noted the teacher's union local number, and a Warrior's logo for the school on it's eye-catching design.
The derby consisted of 35 youngsters divided into two divisions for drivers age 7-18. This year, 22 competed in Stock, and 13 raced in Super Stock.
"There were an awful lot of the really little ones this year," said Derby secretary Ruth Kinsey, who worked on her 44th race Saturday.
The North Central Ohio Soap Box Derby has an incredible history, dating to 1936. In a tribute to that history, each division winner earns a trophy named after one of the biggest names in racing. Both men, Les Griebling and A.J. Watson, got their start in racing at the Mansfield Soap Box Derby.
In fact, Griebling won the local event in 1937, and went on to become a racing icon and eventually the founder of what is today known as the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He knocked off Watson in that 1937 derby.
But that didn't deter A.J. Two years later he won his age bracket in the local race. He went on to become an all-time great IndyCar and sprint car builder and mechanic. In fact, his cars won six Indianapolis 500s.
Watson, a 1943 Mansfield Senior graduate, died in 2014 at the age of 90. Griebling died in 2003 at the age of 78. But the local derby keeps their respective memories alive. The Stock Car titlist earns the A.J. Watson trophy. The Super Stock champion collects the Les Griebling trophy.
On Saturday, Winningham claimed the A.J. Watson trophy, and Thompson grabbed the Les Griebling trophy.
Thompson and Winningham have now qualified for the world championship and a week-long stay at Soap Box Derby camp in Akron, July 14 to race day on July 20.
The top eight in Saturday's local Super Stock division, included: 1. Sammie Thompson; 2. Margaret Restilli; 3. Ava Gaytan; 4. Lily Waxton; 5. Carson Abbott; 6. Kayla Regula; 7. Kaden Percy; 8. Peyton Glass.
The top eight in Saturday's local Stock division, included: 1. Tanner Winningham; 2. Layla VanHarlingen; 3. Nathan Oberdier; 4. Henry Medina; 5. Timo Winningham; 6. Carter Anderson-Thorpe; 7. Noah Brewer; 8. Samuel Brewer,
Mansfield's first and only All-American Soap Box Derby winner was Dean Lutton, who won the 1993 event in Akron.