Smiles prevail in Oak Harbor gravity races

Camryn Joy, left, breaks into a smile as her gravity racer takes off under the guidance of driver Trent Montoya in Saturday’s Challenge Series.  - Jim Waller/Whdibey News-Times
Camryn Joy, left, breaks into a smile as her gravity racer takes off under the guidance of driver Trent Montoya in Saturday’s Challenge Series.
— image credit: Jim Waller/Whdibey News-Times

A shriek of delight here, a pair of wide eyes in trepidation there and smiles everywhere.

Those were the sights and sounds of the North Whidbey-Sunshine Rotary Challenge Series Gravity Races Saturday, Aug. 7, on Barrington Drive.

Twenty-eight special needs children, 15 drivers and numerous Rotary volunteers took part in the 18th annual running of the races. Although light rain sometimes dotted the course, the weather didn’t dampen the fun-filled day.

Puget Power, behind the efforts of Leo Finnigan, initiated the races nearly 20 years ago but stopped sponsorship when Puget Sound Energy took over the company, spokesman Penny Turvill said. At that point the Rotary stepped in.

Turvill said the Rotary organizes the event each year because of “the joy of seeing these kids have such a great time.”

The Rotary also uses it as a fundraiser, encouraging people and businesses to sponsor individual races in the series. Rotary uses the money to support other community activities, such as scholarships to Skagit Valley College, literacy programs in the grade schools and doggie clean-up stations in parks, according to Turvill.

Turvill said the club recruits about a dozen local children each year to serve as the drivers to chauffeur the special needs kids down the hill. She said some of the drivers are children of Rotary members and others are found through organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and Boy Scouts. The drivers have to be between 10- and 12-years-old and under 120 pounds. (They must be small enough to fit into the cars.)

The fleet of cars -- versions of Soap Box Derby racers -- belong to Finnigan, and the Rotary helps maintain the vehicles. Turvill said Ron Wallin was instrumental in getting three of the cars painted and repaired for this year’s races.

Wallin also served as the crew chief Saturday and worked in the “pits” to make adjustments on the cars to keep them in running order throughout the day.


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