Nina Rawls, Widow of Legendary Singer Lou Rawls, Eagerly Awaits First Time Event Racing Derby Downs Sponsored by the All-American Soap Box Derby

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Nina Rawls, widow of the legendary singer Lou Rawls, and 15 friends and family are set to participate in the All-American Soap Box Derby (AASBD) experience first hand at Derby Downs in Akron, OH, on July 7. This will be the first time the track has been opened up to anyone outside of the Derby organization. She is also a top investor for actor, director, Corbin Bernsen’s Soap Box Derby film 25 Hill, which has its world premiere at the Akron Civic Theater July 9.

Nina Rawls, widow of the legendary singer Lou Rawls, and 15 friends and family are set to participate in the All-American Soap Box Derby (AASBD) experience first hand at Derby Downs in Akron, 12:00 – 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 7. Earlier this year, Nina bid on and won this opportunity at an auction benefiting the Akron Civic Theater. Appropriately, she is also a top investor for actor, director Corbin Bernsen’s Soap Box Derby film 25 Hill, which has its world premiere at the Akron Civic Theater July 9 and 10.

“This is the first experience of its kind in the 74 year history of the Derby,” comments Joe Mazur, President and CEO of AASBD. “Nina Rawls and her family and friends will be the very first people outside of the Derby organization that we have ever opened the track up to. I think this is awesome considering that her participation in 25 Hill helped so much to make the movie a reality.”

Derby Downs is a 954 foot, 3 lane, straight downhill racing track designed specifically for Soap Box Derby competition. Nina and her group will be provided with larger and heavier “adult cars.” These non-motorized cars per AASBD rules reach approximately 30 mph and will be fun racing for the participants.

Rawls’ inaugural experience is something the AASBD is hoping to offer to others in the future. They perceive that Derby Downs and the Soap Box Derby experience can be opened up for use as a corporate team building tool, company parties as well as eventual everyday use by the public outside of the July Derby month.

Nina Rawls grew up in Lakemore, OH, a part of Greater Akron, and brought her husband Lou Rawls back to live in the area where they had a son, Aiden. The Derby and it associated festivities have been a part of much of her life.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I first became involved in 25 Hill. Getting to experience flying down Derby Downs in a soap box car will be such a thrill and icing on the cake of my participation,” said Nina.

“I think Lou would be very supportive of the 25 Hill project and would have probably enjoyed racing Derby Downs. He sure loved cars,” added Nina. “He always knew how much Greater Akron means to me. He’d do anything to help children and the essence of the film and the Derby, the tradition and associated American core values, are things he would fully endorse.”

Approximately 6,000 boys and girls from age 8 to 17 participate in about 150 league sponsored races each year with their homemade, non-motorized cars. Of those, about 500 winners from the US and seven other countries come to race at Derby Downs and take part in various AASBD related activities the week of July 17. The final races take place July 23 with awards of scholarships and merchandise prizes for division winners.

Although the number of participants in the All American Soap Box Derby hasn’t declined over the years, the lack of corporate sponsorship once available has significantly dropped. True economic hardship for the organization struck in 2009 when The FirstMerit Back called in a $623,000 loan. The loan has now been restructured and the organization is in the process of reinventing themselves for the sake of the tradition.

Bernsen’s movie, 25 Hill, was inspired by the very real predicament that the Derby is in today. The film, which was mostly shot in the Northeast Ohio with thousands of area residents serving as extras and stand-ins, has already raised more than $150,000 for the Derby organization.

“I’m looking forward to the World Premiere of 25 Hill on July 9,” Nina sums up. “It has been my pleasure to be associated with such a fulfilling project. My hopes are that it will inspire others with some of the traditions and values that have been a part of the All American Soap Box Derby. It’s the kind of movie we need right now for our collective spirit in hard times.”

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Diane Hadley

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