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Down To The Wire Drama In La Mesa
LA MESA -- For more than four hours, the Soap Box Derby cars had been launching like planes at an airport.
Heat after heat, the young drivers ducking down and straining for the best groove in the road that slopes west down past La Mesa Middle School.
By 2 p.m. on this sun-drenched but breezy and cool Saturday it had come to this: Declan Bardin, a Middle School student who had come out of nowhere last year and won a trip to the national races in Akron, Ohio, was in a dead tie with eight-year-old newcomer, Sydney Cerecedes, a young woman in just her second race but clearly showing a knack for picking the right line and holding to it.
Sydney's grandmother, Sharon Cerecedes, a leader of the local Kiwanis Club, was helping calm the eight-year-old's nerves. If her granddaughter could managed to hold onto her 1/12th of a second lead for one more race, grandma and granddaughter would be jetting off to Akron to represent La Mesa this year.
"It's is nerve wracking,'' Sharon admitted while keeping her worries from her granddaughter, who was settling in to her car in lane one.
Over in lane two, Declan and his doting Dad were buckling him into his car, trying to find the least amount of helmet profile possible to cut down on any drag.
"It's windy out there,'' Dad said. "Just keep down. Hold the line.''
The starter counted down and within seconds the two cars were hurtling down the avenue with cheers and encouragement following both.
Sydney started well. She held to a left-side line while Declan, the older pro, swung far right in the sloping Lane Two.
It looked for a few moments like the young girl was going to top the rising star, but Declan didn't waver. At just the right moment he leaned his car to the left and seemed to benefit from a slingshot effect, whipping him across the line just fractions of a second ahead of Sydney.
The result was announced across the track loudspeaker and grounds crews for both teams hugged and congratulated each other. Soap Box Derby has, it seems, managed to accomplish what NASCAR and other professional sports has not -- ending a competition safely and with words of respect being exchanged between all.
If he can raise the funds to ship his car east, Declan will again be going to the Granddaddy of all Soap Box races in Akron later this summer.
After the race, Declan and Sydney eschewed the taxi ride back to the top of hill and ran up to greet their fans. They picked up trophies and packed their cars away.
The La Mesa Kiwanis Club has been running the Soap Box Derby in La Mesa for years and had managed another long, but fruitful competition.