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11-year old from Gretna wins Soap Box Derby World Championship

Posted at 10:10 PM, Jul 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-23 23:10:26-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — An Omaha-area middle schooler became the first Omaha Soap Box Derby racer to win the world championship since the 1930's

Kelsey Van Waart, an 11-year old from Gretna won the Masters local division at the Soap Box Derby World Championships in Akron, Ohio over the weekend.

"It was very busy and hectic and very exciting," Van Waart said. "You wait for that big announcement and when it happens it's an explosion, a very happy explosion. People coming at you giving you hugs, crying, happy tears, it's a lot of fun."

Racing in the same division as 20-year olds, the sixth grader came out on top with a world title in her only year competing in the masters competition.

"This is a very big deal to Region 4 because it's been decades since someone from Nebraska won."

The last winner from Nebraska was in 1965 and the last winner from Omaha goes back to the 1930's.

"We knew that it takes a lot of luck to get there but it was truely a special moment for our family," said Pete Van Waart, Kelsey's father and a former Soap Box Derby racer. The Van Waart's come from a long line of racers. Kelsey's great-uncle got the family in to the sport and her grandpa, dad, brother, uncles and cousins all raced. Pete Van Waart made it to the world championships in 1988 and 1991 and won a heat and Kelsey's aunt medaled in 1994.

"It makes it much stronger, it's a family event and its an all-day thing, a lot of fun," Kelsey Van Waart said.

Soap box driving is similar to drag racing, but there are no engines or electricity in the cars. The racers rely on physics. Each masters car is built out of similar material and weighted at 250 pounds to make the competition fair. Hydrolics drop the cars at the start so all the drivers have the same odds at the start of a race.

"Lot of pressure, a lot of luck," Kelsey Van Waart said. "All of these little things like the wheels, the lane your in, where the sun is shining."

Kelsey started racing only four years ago in 2015. While her family historically raced in white cars, Kelsey raced in a gold car for the world championships, sporting the number-38. The gold color paid off and the car is heading to the Hall of Fame in Akron, where it will be kept on display.

"It was a very good car and it was sad leaving it behind but what came out of it was even more awesome," Kelsey said.

"To see it come true is really special and it's priceless to leave it there," said Pete Van Waart.

The celebration continues for Kelsey and her family. On Tuesday afternoon she found out Ryan Seacrest and Kelly Ripa are flying her to New York City to be on their show and race against Ryan.

"I don't have a lot of words to say about that because it's so amazing," Kelsey said. "Words can't describe it."

"It's a surreal feeling to think in a week we'll be racing Ryan Seacrest down a lane," Pete Van Waart said.

The four-foot two trophy is nearly as big as she is, but the feeling of being a world champion, makes Kelsey Van Waart feel ten feet tall.

"It's really crazy, I don't even know what to say about it, it's way over my head," Van Waart said.

For more information on Soap Box Derby racing in Omaha, head to the Omaha Soap Box Derby racing website.