Soapbox derby grandmother makes history as oldest racer

National

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (CNN/WISH) — The city known for the world-famous Indianapolis 500 is hosting another racing championship this holiday weekend — the soapbox derby.

A grandmother is sure to make soapbox derby history as the oldest racer, but she is also trying to win. Age is just a number for Debra Houston.

“I’m 59,” said Houston. “I feel great and I don’t look 59. When I’m dolled up I even look better.”

It’s a small number indeed. She’s trying something new this weekend.

“This is going to be my first race,” she said.

First race ever, and it comes in the National Derby Rallies’ national championships in Indianapolis. It all started when the coach of the inner city youth racing league — where three of her grandkids train — approached her.

“He goes, you’re the right size, will you do it?” said Houston. “I really didn’t think he was serious.”

But here she is, alongside about 150 racers coming from as far away as California, Texas and Florida to compete. Friday is weigh-in day.

“I’m 4’9″ and I weigh 89 pounds.”

Each car in the five divisions is identical to each other in terms of weight and weight distribution. It’s all about set up, aerodynamics and guiding. In fact, in Debra’s division, all you’ll see are the eyes. If you’re driving, you’re doing too much.

“It’s not as hard as it looks but it’s not as easy either,” said Houston.

Indianapolis’s Wilber Shaw Hill, named for the former IMS president and 3-time Indy 500 winner, is the longest designated soapbox track in the country. It takes about 25 seconds to make it down the thousand feet. Top speed about 30 miles an hour. Debra got her grandkids started this summer, thanks to a friend. She hopes it teaches them responsibility.

“These kids today, they don’t want to do nothing hardly if it don’t involved the computer,” she said. “This is 8, 9 hours of no computer, no phone. I love it.”

But this serves another purpose, too. Earlier this year, she found out her cervical cancer had come back. So there are two chemo appointments a week along with her practices. But that’s no problem.

“As a matter of fact, I think it keeps me going,” she said. “It gives me a reason to not lay up in the bed and think about chemo and cancer.”

The youngest racer in Debra’s division is 11, meaning she’s more than five times as old — and at least double everyone else. She’ll try not to use that against them. Because while she has the age record in the bag, that’s not the only one she’s going after.

“I’m going to win,” she said. “I’m going to win. I’m very competitive so I’m going to win.”

Debra hopes her example motivates other grandmothers to find activities to do with their grandkids. As for the races, it’s a double-elimination tournament. They continue all weekend with championships set for Monday.

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