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June 10, 2012 | 11:33 p.m. CST
A boy climbs up on the starting ramp, jams himself into his car, and crouches as low as possible. He adjusts his helmet while his crew chief, Charlie Marshman, issues directions. “Don’t look at the other driver,” he says. “Just get to the bottom of the hill. Stay low and stay straight. Focus.” The boy takes a deep breath as the call comes: “Racers ready?” He looks forward, his eyes barely peeking over the top of his car. The lever drops, and he’s off.
“I was kind of scared on the ramp,” S.P. says after the race’s conclusion. “They say you go up to 35 mph.”
Sunday’s Mid Missouri Soap Box Derby is the first race for 8-year-old S.P., who is joined at the track by 10-year-old J.K. and 13-year-old N.A. The children (whose names have been abbreviated at the request of their guardians) and three others live with Charlie and Jaimee Marshman and the couple’s three biological children at Coyote Hill Christian Children’s Home. This is the family’s first trip to the track for the annual downhill race.
Staked out in a small shaded area on Ninth Street and Broadway to avoid the 90-degree heat, the family watches the races all day. The derby has given the 11 family members an opportunity to spend the day together, something Jaimee says is a priority in the summer.
The Marshmans moved to Coyote Hill a little more than a year ago from Waukesha, Wis. Jaimee says a typical stay at the home for parents is two years. Their goal is to stay for six.
“We’ve always loved kids,” Jaimee says. “Having our own kids was one thing, but knowing there are kids out there who need help, we wanted to witness to them. If they don’t know the unconditional love of a parent, how will they know the unconditional love of God?”
Back at the race, one of the girls is clearly enjoying the derby. “It’s like a parade,” she says. “Cars just keep going by.”
As the boys hop into their cars on the starting ramp, the family members jump from their seats and stand at the edge of the track, where they cheer as loudly as possible. Later in the day, the announcer grants the racers the titles of “crowd favorites.”
For the three racers, the derby is enjoyable for more reasons than the races themselves. They got to build their own cars leading up to race day, an experience that taught them about the mechanics of the cars and gave them the opportunity to use power tools.
Glenna Kyle, J.K.’s adoptive mother, sent her son to live at Coyote Hill when she realized he needed a father figure in his life. She still sees J.K. on the weekends and says her son loves anything and everything about cars. They are his passion.
“The thing I appreciate most about Jaimee and Charlie is that they take things the kids are interested in and get them involved in those things,” Kyle says.
The Marshmans say they try their best to show the kids what a normal family should look like. They look for events that allow them spend time together and support one another. The derby represents an opportunity to do just that.
S.P. wins third place in the stock division, which Charlie says is “great for a rookie.” N.A. takes fifth place in the super stock division. All three boys and two of the girls in the family say they hope to compete next year.
For Charlie, competition is what it’s all about. “We’re always looking for things you can use to teach life lessons to your kids,” Charlie says. “Things like this teach them sportsmanship, how to keep your cool in frustrating situations, that winning isn’t everything. It’s been a blast. It means more to them than you can put on paper.”