Chevrolet’s involvement in the Soap Box Derby was another of its early passages into American culture. Myron E. “Scottie” Scott (who later named the Corvette) served as an artist, photographer and art director at the Dayton Daily News. In June 1933, he photographed six boys racing wooden contraptions down Big Hill Road in Oakwood, Ohio and got the idea for the Soap Box Derby.
The first race run by Scott in Akron attracted 330 entries and 40,000 spectators, leading to its sponsorship by a local Chevy dealer. Later, Chevy picked up national sponsorship of the Soap Box Derby. In 1937, the company hired Scott as assistant director of its public relations department.
Chevy dealers supplied the kits that kids used to build Soap Box Derby cars. That reflected the automaker’s commitment to community involvement Chevy’s history of building community ties traced from the “GM Quality Dealer Program” that GM sales executive Richard H. Grant and Chevy sales manager William Holler established in the 1920s. In addition to setting up franchises, the program pushed the idea that GM had to sell to customers as well as dealers.
The GM Quality Dealer Program included a contract that specified that dealers had to do a little community service. This ingrained Chevy locally and was sustained by incredible relationships that dealers had in their communities. This showed through in recent years when GM tried to close small franchises and the communities they were in rose to the support of their local dealers.
The Soap Box Derby was a “big deal” for Chevrolet for years. In his book ‘Gentleman Start Your Engines’ famous racing legend Wilbur Shaw wrote about the relationship between Chevrolet, the Soap Box Derby and Akron-based Firestone Tire Co. Shaw almost died when he had a heart attack running the length of the derby course in Akron.
There’s no question that, even today, a lot of graying old timers equate Chevrolet with the Soap Box Derby even though Chevy’s sponsorship of the race ended after John Z. DeLorean attended it. DeLorean, who was general manager of Chevrolet in the early ‘70s, was interested in the Hollywood crowd and not kids. Supposedly he went to one derby with Myron Scott and said, “That’s it! We’re not going to do this anymore.” Chevy’s sponsorship ended in 1972.