19 children race down the vineyard in Putlos in soap boxes

Oldenburg. The starting crew exudes calmness and security: Marvin Junge and Hannes Roth push a soapbox out onto the 2.50m high ramp. A plate that is folded up fixes the vehicle. Then eight-year-old Matty enters. “Are you sitting correctly? Do you have a handle on the steering? Are you ready?” asks Klaus Junge. After nodding three times, Junge counts, “Three, two, one!” When he “go” he pulls the handle. The flap falls. The soap box rumbles and rattles down the steep descent.

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In this way, the trio sends 19 “racers” between the ages of eight and 15 down a 400-metre-long descent on the 67-metre-high Wienberg approximately every three minutes. Once a year, Oldenburg’s highest hill is transformed into a racetrack. Because the “summit” and the “piste” are on the grounds of the Putlo military training area, training runs are not possible outside of this race day, explains organizer Uwe Wolters in the welcome address. “It is something very special that we are allowed to host this beautiful event here.”

For the children and young people, this means that they cannot get any experience on the track before the day of the race. For many participants, it is the first time they have ever driven on a soapbox due to the almost three-year corona break. This applies, for example, to eight-year-old Jannik, who is already very excited. His motto: “Full throttle down the hill – and then the brakes slam at the bottom,” says Jannik.

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Three children get a little nauseous after the test drive

But after the test drive, his courage left him a bit. The steering was so spongy that he almost ended up in a ditch. And the brakes didn’t work properly either, the boy complains about the unknown vehicle. He’d rather stay on the bike.

Like him, two more children decided. “Maybe these participants are a little too small, so they can’t get to the brake pedals properly,” Wolters speculates. His tip: “Just come back next year and try again.” Because once you get the hang of it, driving is really fun.

19 soapbox pilots are excited

The other 19 pilots seem more than enthusiastic. “The best is when the flap drops and the soapbox thunders down the ramp,” eleven-year-old Emily says happily. After this, she “just let the box run” and tried to stay in the middle of the lane. For this amazing feeling, it is worth having to push the box up the mountain again.

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After the descent, Peggy Kreyser pushes the soapbox up the Wienberg to the next start with daughter Emily at the wheel.

“Turn as little as possible and don’t brake at all,” explains Bendix, explaining how he wants to achieve the fastest possible time. The eleven-year-old is one of the more experienced pilots. For the ideal line, you should approach the small left bend on the inside and then hit the home straight at the highest possible speed.

Top speeds of 40 kilometers per hour have already been measured on the route, and the track record is 42 seconds, recalls Wolters. However, timekeeper Thomas Kraus revealed that these values ​​would not be reached this time. “Anyone who gets through under a minute is one of the good guys.” At the end of the day, times don’t really matter, Wolters emphasizes. “Our soap box race is first and foremost a fun event for the whole family.”

The 34th Oldenburg Soap Box Race was organized by the Oldenburg Automobile Club of ADAC and the Oldenburg Citizens’ Association. The clubs have 14 of their own soap boxes, of which three were shut down before the launch due to technical errors. There are also two privately owned vehicles that are used as needed.

Pit lane between racing series

The Junge family has set up a pit lane for minor repairs between the three racing series – each participant has to go down the hill three times. The boxes are lifted onto two painters’ trestles. On site, Marvin Junge tightens the cables for the steering or readjusts the brakes. “Simple technology, you can do a lot of things quickly,” says Junge

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In the improvised pit lane, Marvin and Klaus Junge and Hannes Roth repair the brakes on the soapbox

In the improvised pit lane, Marvin and Klaus Junge as well as Hannes Roth repair the brakes on the soap box “Hai”.

Most boxes were built more than 30 years ago by parents and businesses or at schools in Oldenburg. A template from the German Soap Box Association served as a template. For this reason, changing drivers and changing vehicles is possible at any time and without problems. “So the playing field is level for everyone, and that’s what makes this competition so appealing,” says Wolters.

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