His name was
Sixty-five years ago Blair, a 15-year-old schoolboy from
That alone made news back home. But Blair’s feats on the track were magnified by the fact that, years before, he’d contracted the polio virus and fought his way back to compete.
Blair recovered enough to take up soap box racing, a craze that swept the country in the wake of World War II. So, on a breezy June day in 1956, he eased his car, “a sleek, low-slung job painted black and yellow,” to the starting line on
On race day, against 135 entrants, he won seven straight qualifying heats and the finals (by one length) before the 2,000 raucous fans who lined the 975-foot track. WMAR (
“Wow,” was all the champ could say. Six weeks later, as he and his family boarded a plane to
“I don’t want to sound too optimistic, but I think I can give these boys a real race on Sunday,” he said, while clutching a box containing his car’s “secret” lubricating oil.
Blair nearly didn’t get to grease the wheels. At the check-in before the race, he at first failed to make weight, a 250-pound limit for driver and vehicle. One pound over, he stripped off his undershirt and removed both his wristwatch and a ballast board from his car. The ploy worked. Had it not, he said, “I’d have taken off my socks and shoes and raced in a pair of slippers.”
Festivities began with a parade, led by the
“Even if I don’t win,” he told a hometown reporter, “it will be fun trying.”
Blair won his first heat “by a scant half a foot” and the second race by one-half length. The third heat, he lost by 2 feet to a challenger from
His joy ride over, Blair returned home, where he graduated from McDonogh in 1959, attended the
The Sunpapers Soap Box Derby expired after 1956. The
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