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Youths race for finish in Soapbox Derby

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MASSENA — Youths of all ages kept their heads down and their hopes high as they raced down East Orvis Street in the 24th annual Massena Area Soap Box Derby on Sunday.

The races began at 9 a.m., and after more than six hours, the 34 contestants had been whittled down to three victors, one in each division.

The winners will go to Akron, Ohio, for the 75th annual All-American Soap Box Derby on July 21.

First-time racer Whitney L. Laba, 17, will go to Ohio to compete in the superstock division. She said she loves the thrill and uncertainty of racing.

“It feels like you’re going a lot faster than you are,” she said.

All of the racers either purchased their cars used or built them themselves from a kit, often with help from family, friends and local sponsors.

Kyle J. Allen, 8, modified a used car to race in the stock division. This was his first year racing.

“We got a used car, but he spruced it up himself,” said his stepfather, Brian A. VanOpdurp.

“I did most of it myself,” Kyle said.

The races continued despite rain later in the day.

A timer system at the bottom of the hill allowed organizers to measure results down to the split second.

Four-year derby veteran Kristen M. Page won the stock car division.

Brendan J. Villnave has been to Ohio before, after winning the stock car division of last year’s derby in Massena. He will return this year after winning the master class Sunday. Master class cars are assembled with a fiberglass shell, and are the most expensive and difficult to put together.

While assembling his car with his father, Wayne D. Villnave, Brendan decided he wanted to do something special.

“I thought about my brothers and sisters, because they are all in the military,” he said.

He wanted his car to show how much he cared for them. He recruited a local painter to adorn his car with images memorializing the World Trade Center, rescue workers and military service members.

The car cost $2,300 in total, Wayne Villnave said.

Brendan lost a couple of runs during Sunday’s derby, and for a while he said he was not sure whether he would be able to win for another year.

“It was really scary,” he said.

By the end his confidence had returned, and he was able to cross the finish line victorious.

“I found out where to go on the lane, and I won,” he said.

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