Back Story: Wilbur Shaw Memorial Hill

Indy’s soap box derby track on the near northwest side is where our youngest embrace our racing legacy.
Photography by Margo Wininger/Indianapolis Monthly

LOCATED AN eight-minute drive from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Wilbur Shaw Memorial Hill is where kids experience soap box derby, a sport in which they build their own cars and let gravity propel them to the finish line, aerodynamics and their steering skill their only advantages. Indy’s 1,000-foot soap box track is the longest in the world. Built in 1953, it’s the namesake of Wilbur Shaw, the three-time Indy 500 winner who famously convinced businessman Tony Hulman to buy the IMS after it had fallen into disrepair during World War II. Shaw became IMS’s first president. But few know that Shaw was an advocate for children and an avid fan of soap box derby. Sadly, he perished in a plane crash only a year after the soap box track built in his honor was completed. But his influence is still seen at every rally and race, where families participate together and winning isn’t dependent on a child’s athleticism but on their creativity, STEM knowledge, and driving ability. “You don’t have to be the fastest, or the strongest, or the tallest to have success,” says Bob Getts, director of Indianapolis Soap Box Derby, which has produced five national champions. Cost is also no barrier. “We’ve got close to 100 car kits, believe it or not,” says Getts—more than they have kids to race them. Who knows what future racing legend will climb into one of their cars next?