By Evan Malter
As the sun rose on the morning of Dec. 14, the howls of the local coyotes could no longer be heard, but a new predator and prey relationship was emerging. Matt and Bear Golden prepared the track at La Sencilla while other members of ROC were fine tuning their entries for the 2nd annual ROC ‘n Roll Derby. Would the La Sencilla Course be predator or prey on this afternoon? Local racing legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme would also be on hand as Grand Marshal, adding further gravitas to the day’s event. Prudhomme’s legacy with Funny Cars (first to break 250-mph barrier), 14 wins in 23 Top Fuel drag racing finals and having a Hotwheels car named after him, made him the perfect Grand Marshal on the auspicious day.
The real preparations had obviously begun long before this chilly Saturday in Rancho Santa Fe. Some parents had been preparing since before the first Soap Box Derby Race and even before the local Outdoors Club had been formed by resident Jeff Slosar in 2011. In fact, when both Anthony Slosar and the race were simply twinkles in his father’s eyes, the young speedsters genetics, diet, training and education were being shaped with this race in mind. Some of the cars had also been conceived, built or purchased years earlier. Others, however, waited until the last minute, questioning the ROC leader’s motive of not confirming the site of the race until just days before the race.
“How could I possibly build the right car for the course without knowing what the course is,” said conspicuously absent ROC member Josh Moss in a phone interview the day of the race. “I needed the opportunity to analyze the course’s angles, slopes and surfaces. I think Jeff realized it was the only way his entries had a chance against the rest of us.”
Others were less bitter, simply adapting and playing with the cards that they were dealt. Local car aficionado Ralph Whitworth set out to build his entry late on the eve of the race. Against NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) rules, Ralph contacted his good friend, Grand Marshal Prudhomme, with pleas for assistance. The meticulous lightning-bolt paint job was just barely dry as the car was revealed to the hushed admiration of the gathering crowds. Lead Whitworth Team driver, Douglass walked with a confident strut as he donned his Speed Racer-style helmet.
The Perrys next arrived with their coupled entry. It would be the debut performance from Jewel, but veteran Owen Jr. would be drawing on his experiences from the 2012 tilt. These two pros were clearly bred for speed and were obvious favorites as the betting public began to weigh in on the days activities.
The Golden entries were understated, but nimble. The cars were built with easy transport in mind and could have been brought to the track from any distance, but were simply carried up the hill to the start line by racer Bear.
The Slosars had three entries. Kelly’s car was the most traditional styling of the group, but exuded the refined beauty and attitude of its driver. Anthony’s ride was designed to look like a child’s play vehicle, but was clearly loaded with much more power than that. Last, but certainly not least, was the Iron Pea Pod. The 2012 entry was back for a second run and was prepared to carry Jackson, Avery, Natalie and any other interested stowaways down the course. After it was declared just a few days earlier that the race would not be on the Slosar home course, fans wondered if The Pea Pod could make it all the way to La Sencilla. However, it easily fit in the back of the over-sized van, purchased with shareholder money for the sole purpose of carrying this car to the race.
“My understanding is that there is some sort of diving sensor machinery we invested in,” said Imus Ucker, an investor in Slosar’s latest venture, who was unaware of the van’s real purpose until the publication of this article. “Jeff claims it has already been dropped into the sea and for us to see it we will need to scuba dive 4 miles deep into the ocean.”
As race time neared, spectators and racers alike milled around, quietly contemplating the events that were about to occur. Some drivers, but more so their parents, had butterflies flitting in their stomachs. The drivers’ stomachs were more focused on the homemade gingerbread cookies that rested neatly in rows upon the Golden’s wicker baskets. Drinks, cameras, tools and even the first aid kit sat patiently nearby as well.
The tense silence was broken as the final entry emerged from their cars at the top of the hill. All eyes were on these two racers as they strode down towards the start. The biggest driver in the race was the only one who had dressed appropriately for the day’s activities, wearing leather driving gloves and jacket with red and white racing stripes down the sleeves. Women in Bobby socks and short sweaters with their initials on them swooned when Evan “Don’t Call Me Zuko” Malter appeared. Grease truly was the word and, momentarily, the betting odds moved in favor of Evan and Cody, but then the trunk was opened and their car emerged. Quickly, their odds jumped back to longshot status and the previously swooning women dispersed. It was the same car from the 2012 entry of Nina and Cody, featuring one piece of plywood, a folding seat cushion, four small wheels and a steering rope. Conspicuously missing, was any sort of braking mechanism for the car some were already nicknaming “The Deathmobile.”
Grand Marshal Prudhomme called all the cars to the start line, stating that “Never in all my years have I seen so much money spent on race cars.” It was time to get in one test run on the track, set the rules and start the racing. Each driver tested the track conditions once and brought their cars back to the top of the hill. The Oratz and Sansone families arrived without cars, wisely choosing to scout the competition before their entry into the Third Annual Event, scheduled to be held in December 2014, in conjunction with the ROC ski trip atop the mountain in Mammoth.
The two non-driving Malters (AKA “The Wise and Safe Ones”), Nina and Jake set up at the bottom of the hill to time the racers who were set to race two at a time. Prudhomme assisted as the first two racers, Owen and Douglass, inched to the starting line. Both had donned their safety helmets, but Douglass, concerned the extra padding may interfere with his visibility, removed the pad that rested between his face and the front of the cockpit.
The two had a perfect start and Douglass had a slight lead until something went wrong with the finely tuned steering. In a split second, the race was over for Whitworth as he careened into the shrubs planted between the road and ravine by landscapers with the forethought that someday there may be some crazy neighbors with poor steering soap box derby cars. As Owen rode easily home for victory, all attention turned to Douglass. With flashbacks to his horrific crash in the Molson Grandnationals, Grand Marshal Prudhomme and other medical staff arrived quickly on scene to find an alert, but startled driver adding his own red color to the cars new paint job. The boy and the car were quickly shuttled up the hill and quickly patched.
“As I built the non-fuel, double-oscillating, triple-reciprocating, cross-gasping, competition streamliner, I failed to consider the proper steering for a 6-year-old driver,” said the elder Whitworth as he worked with borrowed pliers to refine the car for its next run. “I feel awful. I owed it to this driver, whom I love very much, to have put him in a machine that could steer.”
NHTSA experts who reviewed the cars steering initially reported that neither of the Whitworth men were at fault and that the father should feel no guilt.
The racing continued with more pairs flying down the hill without incident. The second half of the Perry Team, Jewel, traveled safely to the bottom of the hill with grace and speed. After an amazing run, Kelly Slosar emerged from her car at the bottom of the hill and waved to the crowd, certain that her time was the best. Bear Golden riding on a car that seemed like just a glorified skateboard shocked the crowd with a run that far out-valued the $10 paid earlier that week on Craig’s List. The Pea Pod, steered with the skill of a veteran driver travelled at blistering speed to the bottom and then a bit back up the hill carrying at least three Slosars and possibly a few other children. Grand Marshal Prudhomme was quoted as saying, “In all my year’s racing and collecting trophies, awards and records, I have never seen faster cars.” Truer words were never spoken.
It was then time for the final two entries. Anthony Slosar and the Team Malter Death Mobile, which was about to earn its name. Evan Malter unfolded the folding cushion, donned the leather jacket and gloves and sat down. True to his daredevil reputation, he did not put on a helmet nor fasten the seat belt. However, he did encourage Cody to get a helmet before sitting upon his lap. Cody searched high and low, only to realize that all available helmets were now at the bottom of the hill. It was at this point, that many errors were made, not the least of which was Daredevil Evan taking safety advice from the guy wearing a cast to heal a hand injury caused by unsafe use of a saw. The two wise guys (who clearly were not given this descriptor because of their common sense) decided that no helmets were necessary for the run.
The race began with Anthony muttering something under his breath. Later reviews of the tape would show that he was repeating the phrase “remember the tortoise” over and over, referring, of course, to the story that his parents had read to him every bedtime of his entire life as they pointed him towards this race vs. the Malter boys.
The Malters sprung out to a commanding lead and it seemed the 2013 Roc n’ Roll Derby Title, and all the glory and fame that comes with it, were easily within reach for the Malters. As their speed eclipsed 30 mph, the fans were wondering if the elder Malter could control the speeding car with a boy on his lap, a rope for a steering wheel and a sneaker heel for a brake. They did not need to wonder for long.
With the race in hand, Evan opted to slow the pace down a bit, his right foot skidding across the surface of the road and the car veering violently to the right. His attempts to correct by pulling on the rope steering wheel were blocked by the foot of his passenger and before anyone could avert their eyes, Evan was wrapped around Cody’s head and skidding across the pavement. With one Malter crying and the other repeating “You’re OK” over and over, Anthony rolled by for his easy victory crossing the line with his index finger extended and a broad smile.
For the second time on the afternoon, medical attention was on scene quickly to care for the wounded. Disaster had been averted with no heads making contact with the ground. There was some blood, some missing skin, a torn back muscle and a torn leather jacket, but to the lawyers’ chagrin and the spectators’ surprise, everyone was in pretty good shape.
Investigations are still on-going and no report has been filed regarding the cause of the crash. NHTSA Officials are still hoping to question Brenda Hand who’s “no” RSVP email sent earlier that day had foretold the event: “Please take lots of pictures when Evan crashes!! Good thing his beautiful wife is a nurse so she can also mend his ego,” Hand wrote.
For some reason, the events that followed do seem a bit foggy to this George Plimpton-esque journalist with the gingerbread cookies doing little to lift the fog. However, the unfazed and brave Cody Malter got back on the course, riding in the Iron Pea Pod down the hill. Natalie Slosar safely went down the hill in the Death Mobile, proving that the earlier incident may have indeed been driver error. Each car had a few more runs and the fun was cut short, because of one parent’s poorly timed international flight.
The trophy ceremonies were clearly the highlight of the day as Ralph Whitworth emceed the presentation and Grand Marshal Prudhomme posed with each of the winners (trophy winners list below) commenting that “Any race where I don’t crash or blow something up is a great race.” As quickly as the race had been set up and the cars had raced down the hill, the course was closed and the spectators and racers began to leave. It was a fun day for all and despite its greatest efforts to be the predator, the La Sencilla Course was the only real victim on this day.
•Most Speed Challenged: Owen Perry
•Fastest Car: Slosar Iron Pea Pod
•Rookie of the Year: Jewel Perry
•Most Spendthrift Owner: Bear Golden (2 cars for $10)
•Coolest Car: Anthony Slosar
ªCar Most in Need of Brakes: Malter Death Mobile
•Most Dangerous Vehicle/Bravest Driver: Douglass Whitwort