Funk Box Derby puts innovation on a roll

Local 20-30 Club heads event is fundraiser for kids in need
By: Paul Cambra Journal Staff Writer
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A four-wheeled flamingo? Fast and furious fro-yo? One casually cruising commode? No, you’re not on the set of a Tim Burton movie. You’re in Downtown Auburn and this is the Funk Box Derby. A 10-year-long tradition in the 1980s, the Funk Box Derby resurfaced three years ago and is gaining momentum as an Auburn institution. This year it will be held Sept. 16. The rules are simple. Like soap box cars, they must rely on gravity, nothing else, to get down the hill. Speed is less important than safety. And most important — funky rules. “You have to remember, it’s not a race. It’s not how fast you come down the hill, it’s how stylish — or funky — you look doing it,” said Danny Miller, who, as president of the Auburn 20-30 Club, is heading the event. “The 20-30 Club has been involved with the Funk Box derby since it started — and restarted,” Miller said. “We were too small at its start, but Keith Hentschel, last years’ organizer, asked if we could take over running it.” The entry fee and other moneys raised will help out kids in need in the Auburn area, most notably through the 20-30 Club’s holiday shopping spree for underprivileged children. Kids, after all, are a big part of what it’s all about. “I’ve built about 15 Funk Box cars,” said former committee chairman Alex Blanca. “I never drove one. I always went to another family for a driver. If I had a neighbor with a son or a daughter I would ask them. Sharing the experience is the key.” Blanca has long been involved with the Funk Box Derby since its original run in the 1980s. “I love it. I was on the committee for 10 years. You could call me ‘Mr. Funk,’” Blanca said. “It was a great committee. We all had the same goal in mind. Keep it safe and have fun.” Blanca stressed how important it is to get families involved. “There is no reason why a dad or a mom and their children could get together and build something to come down that hill.” Entries are checked for safety the morning of the event. There are three things you must have, according to Blanca: Steering, brakes and three or more wheels. Oh yes, and a crash helmet. They tried to implement an age restriction this year – 8 to 18 – but enough people expressed their disappointment that the ban was lifted. Adults, you are now free to roll down Lincoln Way on a soapbox. Miller has built many a soapbox style car in is day, but his experience behind the wheel is limited to private jaunts which usually involved running into telephone poles. At last year’s derby, he said he was almost run over by the Nevada County Fencing car. And then there was the time the Folsom 20-30 Club tried to kill Angel Cardenas. “The Folsom 20-30 Club built a car out of an old riding lawnmower. The Channel 31 reporter was in town to cover it and they offered him a ride. Coming down the hill they hit the brakes, it went up on two wheels and Cardenas bailed.” Miller is not sure what to expect this year, as entries are slow to come in. “That’s typical though. People always wait until the last minute. But I know they are out there building them.” One entry you can expect to see is a Jurassic Park-themed car that includes an 8-foot T-Rex. But it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on your car. “Be super creative,” Miller said. “One participant used recycled and scrounged materials that cost him a whopping $5.” Awards are based on creativity, uniqueness and ability to “roll with grace.” Entrants compete in either the “family/community” division ($50) or the “commercial” division ($75). Races are split up according to age. “I wish them luck,” Blanca said. “It’s hard sometimes to bring back something that was so important to the community. But the spirit’s still there.” ------------ 2012 Funk Box Derby When: Sunday, Sept. 16 Where: Top of Lincoln Way in Downtown Auburn Entry fee: $50 community division (families and nonprofits), $75 commercial division On the Web:, Schedule of events: 8-10 a.m. – Auburn Jeep Club Pancake Breakfast at Lincoln Way near Promenade Hotel 8-9 a.m. – Safety check, registration 8-11:30 a.m. – Vote for your favorite car 10:45 a.m. – Opening ceremonies 11 a.m. – Parade of derby cars Noon – Staging at the top of Lincoln Way 12:30 p.m. – Start of Funk Box Derby 2 p.m. – Awards presentation 2:30 p.m. – Closing ceremonies 3 p.m. – Post-race party: Music, food and fun