Auburn looking to get funky

After almost 20 years, locals try to get the Auburn Funk Soap Box Derby rolling once again
By: Andrew DiLuccia, Journal Motoring Editor
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Hey Auburn, you ready for some funky fun? Keith Hentschel sure hopes so. After a nearly 20-year absence, Hentschel, an adviser for Plan Well Live Well financial services in Auburn, is spearheading an effort to bring back the Auburn Funk Soap Box Derby to Downtown. Originally established in 1981 and coming to an end in 1992, The Auburn Funk Soap Box Derby was an event that drew several thousand to Downtown Auburn to watch individuals and local businesses drive their funky soapbox car creations down Lincoln Way. The event got so large it garnered extensive media attention, and was even profiled on Japanese television, according to Al Blanca, a past chairman of the Auburn Funk Soap Box Derby. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the community to have a unique event,” said Blanca, who is advising Hentschel on his quest to rekindle the derby. The reason for the event’s demise, according to Blanca, was that it simply ran its course for that time. But there have been those in the community that have been vocal about its return since the last derby was held in ’92. One such proponent is Jimmy Wall, an Auburn resident and past Funk Soap Box Derby participant who’s been passionate about the funky downhill run. “Jimmy’s been in the ear of a number of people in Downtown for several years,” Hentschel said. After talking to other area business owners and members of the community who have heard Wall’s pleas to bring the Funk Soap Box Derby back, Hentschel decided to take the reins and work to get this event back on the streets of Auburn. “That is what we’re trying to do, is build a good core of people to get this thing going again,” said Hentschel, who’s been working on this endeavor for about six months and has an e-mail list of up to 20 interested parties. “It’s going to take six to 10 people.” Hentschel has received support and interest from the Downtown Business Association, and has an informational meeting set for 9 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 5 at Depoe Bay Coffee Co. in Downtown Auburn, which is open to anyone in the community who’s interested in getting involved. According to Blanca, the original Auburn Funk Soap Box Derby was the brainchild of longtime Old Town Auburn businessman Bob Jetter, and it was designed to bring commerce and community pride to Old Town (the first derby was held there) and then Downtown Auburn. The original derby, which was not a timed event, was an all-day affair the featured a safety check early in the day for all entries, and a parade of the competitors’ vehicles. After that, one by one the derby cars went down Lincoln Way, with each vehicle judged for its uniqueness and flair for the dramatic as it passed the cheering crowds. Over time, the Funk Soap Box Derby added small details to the event, including getting local non-profits involved — an aspect Hentschel would like to see happen with a rebirth of the derby. “If you can make enough money, I’d like to present proceeds to a non-profit,” he said. For now, the most important thing is finding enough people to want to make a commitment. Because if you don’t have enough people to staff registration, set up and clean up and much, much more, then the derby will remain what it is, a memory. But for Hentschel, he hopes he’ll find a enough people that feel the same way he does, and see Auburn get funky once again. “This was something that was introduced to me over time and it was just something that resonated in me,” he said. “It just seems like it fits very well with the community.” Andrew DiLuccia can be reached at __________ Want to get funky? What: Auburn Funk Soap Box Derby informational meeting When: 9 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 5 at Depoe Bay Coffee Co., 893 High St., Auburn For more information or to RSVP for meeting: Contact Keith Hentschel at (530) 308-1582 or e-mail him at