Who was Myron Scott of Ohio?

By Jerry D. Haight

Most never met the man named Myron Scott, nevertheless a ripple of one part of his life impacted countless boys and later girls. In many ways, Myron was very ordinary, born in 1907, spend his life as an artist, cartoonist, newspaper man and photographer, moved around a bit, living in Dayton, Syracuse and Wichita; studied art under a famous cartoonist and well known photographer William Preston Mayfield.

Photography was his main passion and young people his favorite subject. One day in 1933, while Myron was scouting about for a photo story for the Dayton News, he came upon a group of boys racing each other down a hill in gravity propelled carts fashioned from orange crates and soap boxes.

He was so enthralled with their activity he told the boys he would stage a race with prizes and asked them to come back with their friends with racers. The story in the Dayton newspaper drew such a landslide of interest the paper eagerly sponsored a local race the next year dubbed as “The Soap Box Derby”. The event drew over three hundred participants and forty thousand spectators.

Scott was so enamored with the idea that he acquired rights to the event and persuaded fifty cities across the United States to hold soap box car races and send their champions to Dayton for a major race. Later, when he went to work for Chevrolet, he took the rights to the Soap Box Derby with him and, they became an eager sponsor. With the resources of Chevrolet the event became national in scope.

The purposes of The Soap Box Derby go far beyond merely racing gravity propelled carts down a hill.  The Derby starts with an inspiration for youngsters to envision themselves in colorful competition of a home built racecar. Then, the project develops in them the skills they can take with them through life, skills like planning, financing, workmanship and the perseverance to complete a project from conception to finish. It exercises their skills in reading, math and science and builds relationships between adults and youth.

As a youth, I remember standing at the corner of Broadway and Colfax in Denver waiting for a bus. It was there, in a Chevrolet dealer’s showroom I first saw a poster advertising the Soap Box Derby. Every day for a couple of weeks, the silent message sunk in and finally, going inside, I picked up a brochure and started my dream. At first, Mom and Dad poo pooed the idea thinking it would pass since there was no precedent for such an undertaking and most projects of their eleven year old son ended up as bits and pieces of wood scattered in a lumber pile.

That is except for my paper route that I ran for over a year prior to that time. They began to change their mind when one night I showed up with a set of Derby wheels purchased from the Chevrolet dealer and a complete set of rules and the registration documents.. Dad and I spent hours together planning the project, discussing ideas about construction, shape, covering and going over the rules in detail. We got to know each other more during this project than any other activity.

Most of the money for material came from my paper route as this was a house rule and most of the purchases were made by me (another house rule). Testing was done down a large loading ramp behind the Montgomery Ward store and often resulted in something not working right and a trip back to the drawing board.   Over several months, the wooden framework, the mechanical parts of steering and brakes took shape and finally the canvas skin wrapped around the frame drawn taught with lacquer and painted black.

Much of that period was spent making lists, purchasing material, making trips, correcting errors and finally testing. The race car came together about a week before the Soap Box Derby race and it was beautiful.  Probably the most important rule required the young person to perform all manual labor on the car with only supervisory and token work performed by an adult. This was enforced at the time of the first race by an inquiry about the details of construction. When race day came I was asked to describe the process and questioned in great detail. The judges were serious. After passing their test came the waiting.  

It seems like my race with two other drivers happened about 1:30. I remember skipping lunch for fear of being called to the block. Then, finally the moment came. Three youngsters, hearts in their mouth, adrenalin pumping through their veins, looking tenuously at one another waited for the starting block to drop sending them to the finish line. Then the block dropped, the race was on. We headed down the ramp and with a slight jolt transitioned to the pavement and our speed increased.  While it seemed like a long time, in reality the race took just a minute or two before we got to the finish line.

I saw the back of the helmets of my competitors as they crossed. I came in last. Tears ran down my face as I faced Dad; a huge lump in my throat. Two words “I lost”, was all I could muster to say. It would not be until years later when the realization came that I had not lost. Neither had any of the boys (and later girls) who raced in the Soap Box Derby. In fact the valuable lessons learned would stick with every competitor for life.

Myron Scott started with an inspiration that youngsters might envision themselves in colorful competition of a home built racecar. Then, he projected developing in them the skills they could take with them through life, skills like planning, financing, workmanship and the perseverance to complete a project from start to finish. He set the example by bringing the Derby to fruition and thereby impacted lives of countless youth. Myron Scott is one of my heroes even though we never met.