Rollin' in the funk

Auburn Funk Box Derby wheels into downtown Sunday
By: Andrew DiLuccia, Journal Motoring Editor
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Throw on your hat, leather driving gloves and your goggles and get funky — the Auburn Funk Box Derby is back. After an 18-year absence, this uniquely Auburn event will once again roll down Lincoln Way in Downtown Auburn. More than 15 unique creations will be wheeled up to the top of Lincoln and then come flying, or wobbling, down starting at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. “I think it’s great. Just to bring back something that kind of died that shouldn’t have — it’s a great thing for the town,” said Kyle Hentschel, who along with his friend from San Diego built a mining car for Sunday’s event. “It’s a great thing to have back annually — it’s kind of a signature town event.” Originally started in 1981, the event drew thousands to Downtown Auburn as teams created funky looking creations with wheels. Everything ranging from derby cars with tennis shoes for breaks and toilet seats for windshields, to cars that blew out smoke and had retractable wings that opened up while cruising down Lincoln Way were on display. The event grew in popularity, drawing regional, national and even worldwide coverage from as far away as Japan. But after 1992, the race took a hiatus. However, thanks to one man, Keith Hentschel, Kyle Hentschel’s uncle, and a small, but hard-working group of volunteers, Auburn’s getting funky once again. “It sounds like everything is coming together,” said Al Blanca, one of the originators of the derby in the ’80s and now back again. “Keith is really doing a great job, and hopefully it doesn’t rain.” As of Thursday afternoon the National Weather Service online forecast reported a 50-percent chance of precipitation with a high of 71 degrees. Is there a back-up plan? Nope, it’ll just get even funkier. “Rain, with a high of 77? Bring it on,” was Keith Hentschel’s response to the weather. Vendors, T-shirts, hats and pins will all be available on Sunday, and spectators will have a chance to vote for their favorite derby entry while benefiting Seniors First and the Active 20-30 International Club at the same time. The morning will get started with a pancake breakfast presented by the Auburn Jeep Club, then entries will be inspected for safety and then voting on the cars will begin. When the funk box racers head downhill, creativity and originality will rank high on the celebrity judges’ score sheets. Placer County Supervisor Jim Holmes, Auburn Mayor Bridget Powers and Old Town Auburn Business Association President Linda Robinson will be the official judges. “People are going to bring things to the garage and put something together, the young kids are going to be more technical and streamline,” Hentschel said. “That’s going to be the fun part, is how kids will get into the funky part. It’ll be a melding of different kinds of style. How kids and adults see this — it’ll be interesting. I can’t wait to see the kids on the sidelines with their mouths open.” Blanca has even gotten the building bug back. From starting out as just mentor to Hentschel and his group, the Newcastle Lions Club member has taken on a larger role in the Auburn Funk Box Derby and will have a car going Sunday. “I have a young man (driving the car), 14-year-old Austin Cushenbery from Newcastle,” Blanca said. “I usually try to involve a different family (in the derby). I’ve never driven one of these things.” Cushenbery and Blanca will have their hands full against the competition as they will face off against cars such as the one Kyle Hentschel and his friend Brandon Koons built. The two Placer High School graduates spent more than 60 hours building their mining car at Hentschel’s home in San Diego, complete with a fake dead canary in a birdcage and plates on the bottom of the car to make sparks, simulating a cart on rails. “Brandon, it was his idea (for the car). I don’t know exactly how he came up with it,” said the 28-year-old flooring contractor. “We watched the video online (of past derby races) and we noticed nobody had a mine cart, and we thought it might be an original idea that would fit with the town’s history.” And that’s what’ll be all about on Sunday — creativity, fun and memories that some might say, will go down in history. “The main thing is, you gotta keep it funky,” Blanca said. “That fancy chassis-building and stuff, that can go against you. We want some creativity with all the detail.” Reach Andrew DiLuccia at __________ Auburn Funk Box Derby When: Events start at 8 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 19 Where: Lincoln Way, Downtown Auburn Schedule of events 8-10 a.m. — Pancake Breakfast presented by Auburn Jeep Club, Lincoln Way near hotel; cost $5 8-9 a.m. — Derby cars arrive for safety check, registration, Cleveland Avenue and Lincoln Way 8 -10:30 a.m. — Derby car voting, people’s choice 10:45 a.m. — Opening ceremonies 11 a.m. — Parade of Derby cars 12:30 p.m. — Derby car roll down Lincoln Way 2 p.m. — Awards presentation/closing ceremonies For more information, visit or e-mail Cost to spectators: Free Proceeds from the Auburn Funk Box Derby to benefit Seniors First and the Active 20-30 International Club.