AKRON, Ohio - The All-American Soap Box Derby has a title sponsor for the first time in five years.
At a news conference on Wednesday, derby officials announced that FirstEnergy has agreed to a three-year commitment as the main sponsor of the Akron event that dates back 75 years.
Officials would not not release the exact amount that FirstEnergy is giving towards the derby, but officials at the event said a sponsorship of this magnitude would typically be in the range of $500,000.
"This enables us to grow the program like we expect. It increases the number of race cities. It also grows our education initiative by placing cars in schools as educational tools," said Joe Mazur, President and CEO of the All-American Soap Box Derby.
Prior to the three-year sponsorship agreement, FirstEnergy has been a long-time supporter of the event. The company's sponsorship will help expand this unique competition to more communities and families, according to Bob Troyer, Public Relations Chairman of the derby.
"We saw the Soap Box Derby needed some help. We decided this was a great opportunity for us to help the city, help the derby and help young people become more energized and more excited about engineering," said Tony Alexander, President and CEO of FirstEnergy.
The cars are capable of reaching speeds up to 35 mph at Akron's Derby Downs, the nearly 1,000 foot racetrack that has been the home to the race since 1936.
Actor Corbin Bernsen was also on the hand for the announcement. Last year, Bernsen directed "25 Hill," a movie about saving the derby during financially difficult times.
Bernsen also served as emcee as three local kids raced down the hill on Wednesday in cars that had the FirstEnergy logo on them.
The race was won by Megan Gongaware of Perry Township. She also won the All-in American Soap Box Derby in 2010. "I love this hill. It's like my second home. I love being here. It's just a great experience," Gongaware said.
Gongaware and other soap box derby drivers were thrilled to hear about the title sponsorship because they believe it will give the race stability for many more years.
"I'm very happy that we can keep doing this because I don't do any school sports. People ask me, 'What sport are you in?' I say, 'Soap Box Derby,'" said Aaron Rathbun of Akron.
More than 500 finalists from 230 races, including competitions in Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Germany and around the United States, are expected to compete in the championship finals to be held July 21, 2012.
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