Soapbox boys

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IN September 2011 the ‘MAIL’ reported on First Lurgan Explorer Scouts’ efforts to enter the world of soapbox racing at the Hillsborough Oyster Festival.

That attempt ended in disappointment, with a broken wheel on the first run ending the day’s racing early. Undeterred, the Explorers returned to Hillsborough in 2012 to try again.

This year the race course moved from the main street to the prestigious grounds of Hillsborough Castle.

The design of the Scout soapbox remained unchanged except for a few minor tweaks. The chassis was still made from recycled tent poles, and the steering and brakes were the same design that had been built for the previous year. The weak wheels were the issue in 2011, so a heavier duty set were fitted to the front as these would take most of the cornering stresses. Spares were also prepared, just in case.

At scrutineering on the Thursday before the race, the organisers had described the course as “a bit hairy”, and suggested a number of extra safety measures. A seatbelt was fitted and some foam pads strategically placed on Friday afternoon in case the worst happened.

The sun shone for Saturday’s main event, and driver Mark McIlwaine’s practice run down the hill was completed with no mishaps and in just 26 seconds, proving the racer able to keep up with the other 10 entries.

On race number one, the past came back to haunt the team when the right rear wheel buckled under the pressure of the final left hand turn. Mark brought the machine to a safe halt and was rewarded with a round of applause from the crowd. The racer was returned to the top of the hill to have the spare wheel fitted just in time for the next run.

Race two, and on the same corner the soapbox again got out of shape, this time with both rear wheels bending, leading to a much more spectacular stop. With this much damage it was thought there was no chance of getting back on the road, and the post race interview was used to thank those who had helped prepare the racer.

Back at the pits, a second look was more optimistic and it was decided to try to get the spare front wheels onto the back axle. This required some major surgery for the rear braking system, but once again the kart made it to the start line. Race commentator Alan Tyndall awarded his unofficial ‘spirit of the competition’ prize to the Scouts for their perseverance and cheered them away for the final trip.

To everyone’s delight, all four wheels stayed on! The successful last run put the boys in second position in the Under 18 category.

Overall everyone had a great day, with the wheel issues adding to the challenge for the team, and to the entertainment for the spectators. The entry fee and prize money were donated to The Jill Todd Trust, the festival’s chosen charity.

Thanks must again go to GARD Engineering who helped to machine of the steering system for the kart.

The team will return again in 2013 to defend, and hopefully improve on, their result.