After Sarah Whitaker climbed out of her race car at last Saturday's All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, the first thing she did was jump into the arms of her uncle Jon Underwood—the one who introduced her to the sport two years ago. Within seconds, 10-year-old Sarah was engulfed in a sea of Underwoods and Whitakers. "It was incredible," she says. "I was smothered with hugs, and everyone but my brother and me cried."
Forgive the extreme show of emotion. Since 1938 the Underwood clan (mom Rebecca's side of the family) has had 15 entrants in the All-American, each having advanced by winning the Akron qualifying derby. Sarah, a fifth-grader at Miller South School, is the family's first national champ. "When we get together, there's a lot of bickering and arguing over who won what," says Jon. "[Our family] just loves to race."
Like stock car racing—with its Pettys, Allisons and Earnhardts—soapbox racing is often a family affair. "Usually, the dad talks to the child about racing, and they put the car together and race it down the hill," says Rebecca. For beating out 136 other racers to win the stock division, Sarah received a trophy, a ring and a $3,000 scholarship. "I just get in my car and do the best I can," she says. "But I think it's in my blood."