The Kingston Artists’ Soapbox Derby was back in full force to celebrate its 27th anniversary on Sunday, with ten entries vying for trophies and a larger crowd in attendance than last year. It was a glorious summer day, the heat peaking around 85 degrees, the humidity bearable and the sky as bright blue as it gets, with barely a cloud to be seen. “It was a perfect day for sure,” said Nadine Ferraro of Radio Kingston, who emceed the event, introducing the contestants at the chalk-art starting line and handing out the awards after the finish.
Two-thirds of the Mac $ Cheeze Balkan Power Trio, Max Fass and Timothy Allen, kicked off the progress down lower Broadway, quickly joined by additional musicians to form the pickup version of a marching band. Instead of the giant color wheel that traditionally serves as the Pace Car for the Derby, a rolling agglomeration of propeller-festooned tables and chairs called “Honoring Jim Fawcett” led off the line of entries, assembled in memory of this year’s special honoree. A sculptor and woodworker who lived in Highland until his recent demise, Fawcett participated in every Artists’ Soapbox Derby since 1995, always designated as Entry #8 even when fewer than eight vehicles joined the competition. Will his number be retired in future Derbies, we wonder?
Another much-mourned local luminary, Tommy Keegan, co-founder of Keegan Ales, who died in May 2021, was the inspiration behind the entry that swept the two top prizes in this year’s Derby. The “USS Tommy” was a pirate ship constructed over the frame of a boat that Keegan had created as a project at the Wooden Boat School on the Rondout waterfront, according to Ferraro. It featured several moving parts, including a turret that sprayed water on the spectators lining Broadway and a glitter cannon set off at the outset of its “voyage.”
The ship was accompanied by a large entourage of Keegan Ales friends and family, all costumed appropriately. There were folks in pirate garb; a pair of hirsute drag-queen mermaids, one of whom introduced herself as Hairiel; several Poseidons, both male and female, bearing tridents; a man in a shark hat; and a guy carrying an inflatable lighthouse and wearing a matching red-and-white striped shirt and cap, prompting speculation about why Waldo was so easy to find that day.
Clearly, a lot of people went to a lot of work to make this entry happen. “This is the first time they did it a day ahead of time. Usually, you wake up on Sunday morning and say, ‘Hey, let’s build a boat,’” said Bill Cloonan, who identified himself as Tommy’s uncle. “He always did it every year.” The extra effort for 2022 proved worthwhile, it seems, considering that the “USS Tommy” won both First Prize in the Adult category and the People’s Choice Award.
“Still No Stinkin’ Brakes,” a minimalist single-wheeled rowboat frame commemorating Jim Fawcett and holding the sacred #8 starting position, built by Michael Lalicki and steered by James Connors, came in second in the Adult category. It also took the coveted “Horse’s Ass” trophy, officially known as the Rondout Reject Award. “Nogginsland” by John Huber, a cement mixer loaded with candies, took third place among the Adult entries.
The top three winners in the Youth category were “UFO 2.0,” a shiny flying saucer by Hugh, Drew and Adrian Cummings, in first place; “Vino Veloce,” a wine barrel and grape arbor by the Ulster County Italian American Foundation, in second place; and “Cruisin’ in the Buggy,” a ladybug design by Mackenzie Newkirk, in third place. Runners-up included the Patterson family’s “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” whose pilots wore colanders for flight helmets; Henry Louis Erhard’s “Summertime Forever,” a bower covered with cut flowers and greenery; Laura and Ruby Crimmins’ smoke-spewing, three-segmented “Tractorsaurus;” and the Baird family’s “Spread the Lava,” a volcano filled with chocolate kisses.
Festivities continued down at the T. R. Gallo Waterfront Park after the race, as spectators cast their votes for the People’s Choice Award and awaited the judges’ decisions. Michael DiPleco, chair of the Artists’ Soapbox Derby Committee, walked around with a big basketful of plastic dinosaurs that his wife, artist Tess Casey, had painted gold for an event at the American Museum of Natural History that got canceled due to COVID. DiPleco was giving the dino figurines away for free, and said that they still had hundreds more at home.
Eventually the ballots were tallied and the winners stepped up to claim their prizes: tiny trophies and wads of two-dollar bills. “Now it’s time to go home and get back to work,” urged Nadine Ferraro. “Our goal is 25 entries for next year!”