Conversations with Number 100

I don’t know why I chose 100.

I wrote it in red figures on a white circle on the shiny black background. I won 2 races in it, and have 2 big trophies at home to remind me. I deserved those trophies, as the victory really was on the edge of my being. It scared me compared to getting an “A” for mathematics at school.

Being a pessimist and fatalistic at the time gave me sleepless nights designing a braking system. Eventually I worked out a slotted system with release springs to use my feet to apply pressure on the rear wheels. It worked at low speeds, but slew dangerously at stopping from top speed.

My soap box was a winner. My father built it for me over a few weeks in the evenings and on weekends. He was a master woodworker, unlike a certain famous political figure that often graces headlines in the second decade of the new millennium. We also built it with no power tools. I guess I needed to appreciate the work that went into planing the meranti planks and then sanding them down for the paint job. Black gloss enamel.

The box, or seat, had sides and a back of chipboard and I upholstered it with sponge padding covered by red vinyl. A t least my Alfa Romeos now have stylish red leather seats. At the time I had no ambition about vehicles other than dreaming about owning one of the sleek enclosed downhill racers with wheels on ball bearings. Although I was given a frame by a friend and I managed to learn how to use a pop riveter and bend hardboard to fix it over the frame, I did it alone and was never encouraged.

The start was on top of the hill on 5th Avenue, in Old Alberton. There was a stand that sloped at 30 degrees with a footstop that was released by crank to start the race. The hill was parabolic, so in the beginning the speeds were mild. As the slope steepened it became quite scary controlling the soapbox at 35 km/h.  I wore a motorcycle helmet, supplied by the race organisers, and crashed into the straw bales at the end of the race as the brakes forced me to lose steering. What steering? A simple nylon rope knotted through the plank with the front axle bolted beneath.

The second year I won I was even more nervous, as I know knew how fast this box on wheels actually went. I had to replace the old axles as the mild steel rods bent with the heat  caused by friction of the wheel interface.

Come to think of it, I learnt a lot from the Soap Box Derbies.  I learnt a lot about myself and my father.

I just don’t know why I chose 100?

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