Central Park has been the setting for marathons, a midnight race, and a 5K fun run. In June, the park will host a different kind of competition intended not so much to crown a winner, but to give children a start toward a better life.
Students from across New York City will compete in the first Soap Box Derby race in the Manhattan park on June 19 through the 1000 Feet Project organization.
After its inagural year in 2015 when the race was held in Queens, the nonprofit received a permit from the city's Parks Deparment to race in Central Park down Center Drive from the volleyball courts to Skater's Road. The course takes cars made by students down 1,000 feet of racetrack.
The 1000 Feet Project is a nonprofit organization that aims to offer children, between 9 to 12 years old, from underprivileged communities in the city access to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum through participating in Soap Box Derby races.
The organization held its pilot program last year with 56 children participating. Four of them traveled to Akron, Ohio, to compete in the All-American Soap Box Derby (AASBD) competition.
“It just opens their eyes to so much and the environment around the Soap Box Derby, yes there are races, but it is very team oriented and it’s a positive kind of competition,” said Maggie McDermott of 1000 Feet Project.
According to McDermott, nearly four times the number of children that were expected to sign up want to be part of the upcoming race and the organization doesn't have enough money to sponsor all of them.
In hopes of getting as many of the children that have signed up to participate, the organization started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money by mid-May.
The funds will go toward fully sponsoring a child in the race, covering the race fee, a team T-shirt, trophy and additional permits that are needed for the race.
Through the program, the racers get hands-on experience designing motorless vehicles, training in how to work with the cars, and developing racing strategies that incorporate learning about gravity, friction, speed and and other scientific and mathematical concepts.
Along with working on the cars and racing them, McDermott said it helps bring families closer together and motivates children to stay in school.
Staten Island brother and sister duo Isabel Silva, 9, and Ivan Torres, 11, are two of the children that will be participating in the Central Park race and were part of the pilot program with the 1000 Feet Project.
They are also featured in the film “1000 Feet Project” which documents the inaugural year of the program and follows the children through their journey from day one.
Ivan and Isabel were also selected as the four participants who went over to compete in Ohio. It was the first time either had ever been in a plane.
“I feel proud that I am able to do something like this because this is like a once in a lifetime thing,” Isabel said.
Along with finishing second in a local qualifying race in New York City, Ivan — who has his heart set on a future in either NASCAR or the NBA — also snagged second place at the AASBD in Ohio, winning a trophy he said at the time was taller than his sister.
“The most fun part of being with 1000 Feet Project is actually going down that hill because you get that breeze,” Isabel said.