HAMPDEN, Maine — Some say winning is about luck, others say it’s skill, and some suggest it’s even in a person’s genes.
Thirteen-year-old Rebecca Bullock of Hampden had a bit of all those attributes going for her when she won the Maine State Soap Box Derby in June — especially the genes.
Bullock is the youngest of five children of Sally and Jack Bullock, with her four older siblings all winning the state derby competitions at least twice and moving on to national competition at the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio.
“All my other siblings started racing and then my dad got me into it afterwards,” said Bullock, who started competing when she was 8.
The family’s first win came in 2002 when Josh, now 21, picked up the derby win. Between Josh (2002, 2004, 2006), Sarah (2004, 2006), Zach (2004, 2005, 2006), and Mary (2006, 2008) the family has racked up 10 state-derby titles over the last 10 years.
“The derby has been a real positive for our family,” said Sally Bullock, Rebecca’s mother. “It’s something that has seemed to always bring us together.”
Bullock went to the state competition in Houlton looking to carry on a family tradition.
The whole family was a crucial part of her practicing and car construction leading up to the derby, but Bullock said her brother Josh was the one who gave her the most advice.
“Josh was up at the hill all the time showing me different things to make my car faster,” she said. “He and my dad knew the Houlton track pretty well and made adjustments to my car for it.”
“Josh coached her through it all, told her to stay close the lines and drive straight,” added Sally Bullock. “He was there with her and it was really cool to watch them work together.”
Besides being in a family of racers, Rebecca Bullock enjoys the simple, yet fun parts of the derbies.
“The best parts for me are just getting to go down the hill and making my shell,” she said.
While some drivers find sponsors for the races and develop paint schemes for cars, others like Bullock use their creativity to decorate the shell. For this year’s race, Bullock put plenty of time and effort into her shell by adding nautical stars with sharpie markers.
“People have these really unique designs, but she keeps it simple with sharpies,” said Sally Bullock. “She loves working on the car and it gives her and her father something to do together.”
Sally Bullock has enjoyed watching her children race, but also enjoyed watching how the sport has helped children mature socially and grow as individuals.
“It’s a real family sport where sportsmanship is at it’s highest level,” she said. “The kids interactions and kindness around the track were amazing, with everyone cheering each other on.”
Derby competitions were held for several years at locations in Bangor and Camden as well but that ended two years ago, which Sally Bullock attributed to the difficulty in getting funds to race during a slow economy.
There were stock and super stock divisions for ages 8-17 at the Houlton race, with both consisting of about about 20-25 cars in each. Divisions for the derby are set by weight, with stock drivers maxing out at 110 pounds and super stock at 150.
Brackets for the state derby were determined before the race with time trials that take place in May, and then each driver gets to test both lanes the day of the race upon arriving at the track.
After dropping into the elimination bracket of the super-stock division, Bullock maneuvered through the competition and eventually made it to the championship race.
In that race, she took on Rachel Graves, who had sent Bullock to the elimination bracket earlier in the day.
“It’s not uncommon for drivers to meet back up like that,” said Houlton race director Chris Holmes. “It has happened a fair amount of times here and it adds to the excitement.”
Bullock was not about to let Graves ruin her opportunity as she was able to beat Graves in back-to-back races to take the state title and advance to Akron.
“It is quite the feat,” said Holmes about the Bullock family’s dominance. “I don’t know if I’ve seen anything like this, but you also don’t see families with five kids often these days.”
Knowing the Bullocks through years of their families racing together, Holmes could see just how much the win meant to the Rebecca, but especially the family.
“As a family, they were all anxious to see her do well,” he said. “Obviously with Rebecca being the baby they were rooting heavily for her.”
Bullock, along with Maine stock division winner Seth Rand of Houlton, now heads to Akron July 16-21 for a week of events that lead up to the 75th annual All-American Soap Box Derby. Prerace activities include a parade, clinics, car repairs and time trials.
Bullock is hoping to at least place in the All-American derby, something that her older siblings were unable to do in their previous 10 trips to Akron.
Bullock admits to being a bit nervous, but she knows what she has to do when she gets into her car.
“Just drive straight and stay low, thats all it takes,” she said.