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Sept. 19 date set for rebirth of Auburn Funk Box Derby

Wild wheels to celebrate creativity, not speed, on Downtown Auburn’s Lincoln Way
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn’s got its funk back. But it’s dropped the soap. Absent for 18 years, the newly renamed Auburn Funk Box Derby is getting a fresh start Sept. 19 in Downtown Auburn, its organizing committee announced Tuesday. The wacky display of wheeled wonders was a popular, most-anything-goes exhibition of mirth and mechanics that put non-motorized “funk soapbox” vehicles on a downhill journey for prizes in front of judges looking at creativity rather than speed. While the name of the event has been shortened from “Auburn Funk Soap Box Derby” to “Auburn Funk Box Derby,” the focus will continue to be creative fun, event chairman Keith Hentschel said Tuesday. As well as entries taking their turn traveling down Lincoln Way from Harrison to Cleveland Avenue, plans are for a parade, vendor booths and possibly even a marching band. With the event still seven months off, the committee – which was formed last December – is fine-tuning a logo, entry requirements and sponsorship arrangements. When the Funk Box Derby first took place in the 1980s through 1992, original board member Alex Blanca recalled that the celebration was held in August and drew large crowds. The event even attracted a Japanese TV station one year. With those memories to buoy it, the event never went away in some people’s minds. Hentschel, an adviser for Plan Well Live Well financial services in Auburn, began to pull the pieces of the puzzle together this fall for a return. An organizing committee has been meeting regularly since December to bring the Funk Box Derby back to the streets of Auburn. The Downtown Business Association has pitched in with seed money and support for a road closure on the Sunday the event takes place. The Auburn 20-30 Club has also stepped up to provide early backing, as well as the Masons, Hentschel said. Seniors First and the 20-30 Club will be recipients from the derby, which is being positioned not only as a community activity but also as a fund-raiser. Blanca said the event will be festive but in control. Coincidentally, it will take place on the weekend that had for many years been reserved for the Auburn Chamber of Commerce Black & White Ball. “It’s not going to be as festive,” Blanca said. “We don’t want to be kicked out of the Downtown. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.” The initial derby began to see crowds and entries dwindle, before being discontinued after 1992’s last run. Now it’s back with a new name and new volunteers ready to bring the funk back to Auburn’s Downtown on Sunday, Sept. 19.