Parents, families and alums gathered on William Smith Hill on Saturday afternoon to watch the favorite HWS tradition, Fall Nationals. The annual soapbox derby race coincides with the Barnburner Tailgate, a giant party for the soccer and football games. Among the heated rivalries was one between 2011 champion and Chi Phi brother Marshall Keeton’14 and Hobart Dean Eugen Baer HON’07, P’95, P’97, a previous Fall Nationals winner who Keeton narrowly defeated last year. In the end, team “Young Savage,” driven by Sigma Phi brother Samuel Bowen ’15, defeated both to claim the 2012 title.
Before the race all talk was about the Baer/Keeton rivalry.
“He’s a formidable foe,” Baer said of Keeton, who is also currently a student in his Semiotics class. “He showed his expertise in building a car last year so I’m anticipating a real tight race.”
“I am definitely coming back to this race to win again,” said Keeton before careening downhill. “I’m very competitive in everything I do and am hoping to walk away in first again this year.”
While Keeton’s car was one built just in time for this race, Baer returned with his classic Mapstone Crude Coupe. The car Baer has used for every Fall Nationals in which he’s participated, it was constructed on the farm of Hobart Assistant Dean David Mapstone ’93 from an old oil can and is stored back on the farm between racing seasons.
“It stands on some very, very wobbly wheels and threatens to fall down every few yards. It’s hard to stay on course,” explained Baer. When asked what he does to compensate for the rugged nature of the car, he turns to his experience as an expert skier: “You have to know how to fall; it’s a matter of the art of falling.”
Baer is quite possibly the longest-running competitor in the race, having been at Fall Nationals for six consecutive years (although present, he missed the actual race one year because his car did not arrive from the farm in time). He is also the oldest competitor in the race each year, something he says is part of what he enjoys about the tradition.
“It is really great fun to be here and to see old and young have a great time at it together,” he said.
Also among the competitors returning from last year was Andrew Berlanga ’14, who went “flying” down the hill driving a car he and roommate, Andrew Zenger ’14, built using a water jug and wood to create an airplane design. “The best thing about Fall Nationals is the atmosphere. It makes for a very enjoyable afternoon,” said Zenger.
Raphael Durand ’13, who represented the Druid Society, explained that it was an honor to uphold and be part of this tradition. Event coordinator Andrew Oliveira’13 agreed. “This is a great HWS tradition and it has been an honor to help facilitate.”
While a serious competitor, Keeton agreed. “To me, Fall Nationals is an important tradition,” he said. “It’s an interesting and fun event to get students and their parents to come support all of the racers.”
Six teams of Hobart men competed in the race; William Smith was represented by Julia Leavitt ’13, who represented the William Smith Rugby team. In four rounds, racers went head-to-head until only two were left standing.
The competition was intense throughout the entire competition and there were many close calls. The race between Colby Mauke ’13 and Bowen was so close that the judges struggled to come to a conclusion. Mauke, who was representing the Interfraternity Council, displayed everything that the IFC stands for by admitting defeat even after the judges had awarded him the victory.
The race was ultimately claimed by the “Young Savage” team and Bowen, who had a dominant last round. “I was a little bit nervous about the first run,” explained Christopher Shiver ’14 of his teammate. “But once Bowen pulled away I was feeling confident and knew we would win.” The entire team was boisterous and exhilarated upon winning and carried the car around with Bowen still inside and sang “We are the Champions.”