Funk Box Derby rolls again

After a nearly 20-absence, the Auburn Funk Box Derby returns Sept. 19
By: Andrew DiLuccia, Journal Motoring Editor
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At the most recent Auburn Cruise Nite James Letcher wore the hat of a barker, pulling in passersby to a display booth with his words and his eye-catching prop — the “Phsycadelic Relic.” No, It wasn’t some tricked-out Volkswagen bus from the 1960s. Instead it was a metal-framed vehicle encased in a lightweight body painted a bright yellow — a preview of what’ll roll down Lincoln Way on Sunday, Sept. 19. The area resident was helping out Keith Hentschel, the mastermind behind the rekindling of a unique Auburn event — the Funk Soap Box Derby. Earlier this year the Auburn financial planner took it upon himself to resurrect the event that filled Downtown Auburn from 1981 to 1992. And the wheels are rolling once again as the new Auburn Funk Box Derby will take place this September. “I think it’s awesome. It first started right after I got out of high school,” said Letcher, who plans to build two more cars for the derby. “It’s a great event for everyone.” On June 11 Hentschel, along with other funk box supporters, had a small tent on Lincoln Way during the Auburn Cruise Nite, letting people know about the event and encouraging them to build a car for the race. “Right now our goal is to get the number of people to commit to building cars up,” said Hentschel, who hopes to have as many as 50 for the Sept. 19 date. “Right now we’re getting the word out and getting people excited.” The “Physcadelic Relic” drew plenty of fans at Cruise Nite and spurred conversations with Hentschel and Letcher. “It’s a good thing for the young kids. It’s something I want to do,” said Brad Baldwin, who stopped by the display on Lincoln Way. “I want to get the word out. It’s time to get to the welding shop and get to work.” So far Hentschel said there’s a handful of cars that are committed to the derby, which will run down Lincoln Way. But he has plans to get more people involved. One of those is through a car-building class. The first "learn to build” seminar will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 11 at the Auburn 76 Auto Center at 555 Wall St. This class will be the first of three, according to Hentschel. The Auburn Funk Box Derby has received support from multiple groups, including the Auburn Downtown Business Association, Seniors First and the Active 20-30 International Club, just to name a few. Along with community support and a small core of volunteers that have done everything from establishing a website to making the derby’s official logo, the Auburn Funk Box Derby has also laid out its plan for Sept. 19. The day is scheduled to start with a pancake breakfast at 8 a.m., followed by the safety check inspection and voting period, which runs from 8 to 10:30 a.m. Opening ceremonies will follow and then a parade of the vehicles. Then at 12:30, the derby begins. Hentschel said he plans to build more interest in the Auburn Funk Box Derby by showing up to more Cruise Nites this summer, as well as going to other large community events in the Auburn area, such as the Fourth of July Parade. “If you get 50 cars out here, which is the limit,” Hentschel said, “it’s going to be crazy out here.” Andrew DiLuccia can be reached at __________ Auburn Funk Box Derby When: 12:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010 Where: Lincoln Way, Auburn Information:; e-mail: or call Keith Hentschel at (530) 308-1582