Gravity Races bring out smiles

Sofia Mottern, left, and Nathanel Thompson listen to instructions before heading down the hill in last year
Sofia Mottern, left, and Nathanel Thompson listen to instructions before heading down the hill in last year's races.
— image credit: Jim Waller / Whidbey News-Times

If you want to put a smile on your face, check out the smiles on the faces of the children zipping down Barrington Avenue in soap box cars at 10 a.m. Saturday in the annual Gravity Races.

The Rotary Club of North Whidbey Island Sunrise sponsors the event, and it is designed, according to spokesperson Penny Turvill, to “give kids with special needs a very special day of fun.”

When Puget Power started the race 20 years ago, members of the Sunrise club helped out.  Sunrise took over as primary sponsors when Puget Power merged with Washington Natural Gas and decided to no longer stage the event.

Leo Finnegan, a Puget Power employee who built the cars and started the races, was given the cars and continues to provide them each year.

As many as 30 special needs children have shown up in the past, Turvill said. Since preregistration is not required, she is not sure how many will be on hand Saturday. The kids should report at 9 a.m. to check in and get their picture taken in one of the cars as a souvenir provided by the club.

Pre-trained drivers join the children in the cars for each race.

The 31-person Rotary Club of North Whidbey Island Sunrise receives plenty of volunteer help to make the gravity races run smoothly. The club is aided by the City of Oak Harbor, and employees of the public works department donate time each year. The fire department brings by a fire truck for the kids to enjoy, and the police department uses a speed gun to let the children know how fast they are traveling down the hill.

Oak Harbor High School cheerleaders line the street and encourage the kids as they slide by.

Turvill said a clown is also on hand to entertain the participants.

“It is a really fun event for all of us,” Turvill said. “We would love to see more of the community come to watch and cheer on the kids.”

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