Paping Soap Box Derby’s John Meijas

The cars have wacky names like "Birch Beetle" and "Flying Armoire" but this year's fourth annual Paping Soap Box Derby (held on July 15) was serious business — serious fun that is!  We have to say it's the most natural use of the nabe's notorious "Suicide Hill". (Watch highlights)
BHB got a chance to have a little email Q&A with organizer/East Village art teacher John Meijas.
How did the Brooklyn Heights version of Soap Box Derby come about?
Paping is the nickname of my father and is also the name of a comic/zine that I publish. I had learned about soapbox racing from my father who would build and race when he was a kid in Spanish Harlem. I wanted to re-create it so I looked around New York for a worthy hill for about a year. The Brooklyn Heights location turned out to be the winner because a) not too much traffic passes through it. b) most of the participants are from Brooklyn. c) It's not called suicide hill for nothing.
How has it been received by locals? 
The locals have been very friendly and supportive. They always smile and talk to us about the event, always happy to watch the races. I have never heard a negative comment. Real New Yorkers.
What was the crowd like this year?
Punks, yuppies, seniors, art school kids, families, dog walkers. There really isn't just one type of person. I think everyone likes to see a good/creative race.
Where are the entrants from?  Any stars?
All of the entrants have been New Yorkers/Brooklynites. Most of them are artists and sculptors who have had various gallery shows. Two art collectives: Partyka and the 62 always participate and are also involved in a slew of other art endeavours.

What kinds of material do people use to build their car?
The cars are made from things found on the street. We collect dismissed items and recycle them into racers. Such items have included: wheelchair wheels, baby strollers. refrigerator doors, bike parts, toys, golf carts, armoires, chicken wire, Nordic tracks, hand trucks,b.b.q.grills and lots of scrap wood.
What's your favorite car? Favorite material or theme?
I don't have one favorite car. I do love that that the cars are all very different and that there  is not just one way to build, it's an open world. In other soapbox races, you have to follow guidelines and even buy kits from specific companies." Art is problem solving and risk taking" – my high school art teacher.
Have you begun on next year's derby? When will it take place?
As the races popularity has increased, I am working on getting a permit for next year. details will be posted at as they arrive.
Photo via Flickr user "Irena Kittenclaw"
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