In 1968, the Avocado Festival committee, sponsored a soap box derby for kids age 10 to 14.  It was initially called the Avocado Box Derby.  However, in 1969, the Volunteer Fire Department took over sponsorship and renamed it the Gravity Grand Prix.  The race was held at the end of East Ivy Street, starting at the top of the hill between the old high school and the Boys Club, as it was known in those days.  The downhill racecourse was about 500 feet long, with the finish line near the fire station.  The Derby involved running multiple heats of 2 or 3 cars at a time. About 200 spectators cheered the racers.[1]

The young contestants were required to build the Derby car themselves.  Adults could give advice, help with power tools and lend a hand, if necessary.  Entrants had to drive their own cars.  Car weight could not exceed 250 pounds including the seated driver.  One week before the race, the cars had a “weigh-in” at nearby Foster Avocado Packing House, just around the corner at 300 E. Alvarado. The packing house had an large industrial scale.

Derby cars had strict specifications that needed to be followed during construction.  Car length could not exceed 90 inches.  The wheels had to be at least seven inches diameter but no larger than 20.  Road clearance had to be at least 3 inches but not more than 6 inches.  Overall height could not be more than 28 inches, excluding the steering wheel and roll bar, if any. The cars had to be steerable with a wheel that moved the front axle, and they were required to have a braking system capable of stopping the car safely.  A separate prize was given for the best brakes, plus there was a prize for the best overall construction.[2]

In both 1968 and 1969, the Avocado Festival was a two-day affair held in October.  The Derby was scheduled early 9:30 Saturday morning to leave Ivy Street clear for other scheduled festival events, including the Avocado Festival parade.  The parade had a dozen high school and military marching bands headed towards Ivy Street in the early afternoon.[3]

Fallbrook’s soap box derby only lasted a couple of years, but the youngsters who were there fondly remember this unique and special event a half century later.[4]

Tom Frew,
FHS Historian

[1] Fallbrook Enterprise October 10, 1968

[2] Fallbrook Enterprise October 9, 1969

[3] Fallbrook Enterprise January 18, 1968

[4] Nile Peterson, a 12-year-old contestant in 1969, describes this little-known race in Fallbrook’s history.