Downhill Derby: Will WGH remain undefeated?

April 22, 2017 GMT

MOUNT CARMEL — Twenty or more cars are expected to participate in the 2017 Kiwanis Wabash Cannonball Downhill Derby to be held in conjunction with Ribberfest on Saturday, April 29.

The event has gotten a bit more competitive over the years, organizer Dan Schonert said.

“We’re anticipating a lot of the same participants we’ve had over the past few years. I do know the hospital will be back in it — they are the ones everyone is gunning for,” Schonert laughed. “They are undefeated and I believe their plans are to stay that way. There are people out there whose goal is just to knock them off their pedestal — to me, that makes it a lot of fun.”

Participants will also be traveling from Mitchell, Indiana, the origin of the Downhill Derby, and McLeansboro, Illinois, which will be hosting its first race in the fall.

The Wabash Cannonball Downhill Derby is a double elimination event that will begin at the top of the Third and Market Street hill, and continue down to Mulberry Street.

Volunteers from area sports teams and other organizations help with the set up for the event, including the labor-intensive straw bales that are needed to line the street.

“We wouldn’t be able to do it if Rural King wasn’t donating the straw to us — that’s a huge help,” Schonert said. “Every year we offer to pay for any bales we break and every year they say ‘Don’t worry about it.’”

Cars have been clocked in at going as fast as 27 miles per hour, so safety is key to the organizers of the Downhill Derby. The handmade vehicles need to have brakes and steering capabilities and drivers have to wear helmets and other safety equipment.

“Every car is different, and that’s the beauty of it,” Schonert said. “To me, it’s almost as fun watching them compete as it is seeing what designs people come up with.”

Several trophies and awards are given out at the end of the event, including an engineering award and “Captain Courageous,” which is given to the person brave enough to ride down the hill in a less than efficient car.

“We encourage everyone to come out and watch this family friendly, fun event during Ribberfest,” Schonert said.