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The Roots of Bristol’s Independence Day Celebration: PART XVI

Celebration Committee members Tony Agatiello and Frank Miserandino borrowed the idea from the famous Akron, Ohio Soap Box Derby. Bristol’s first derby was held on Bay View Avenue, July 1, 1951.

Orange Crate Derby

Celebration Committee members Tony Agatiello and Frank Miserandino borrowed the idea from the famous Akron, Ohio Soap Box Derby. Bristol’s first derby was held on Bay View Avenue, July 1, 1951.

Bristol’s downhill, freewheeling race was originally named the Soap Box Derby, after the national organization using the same name. The national organization sued the Bristol group for infringement upon a copyrighted name; thus, Bristol has its Orange Crate Derby.

That first race was open to all comers; Thomas Pine a contestant from Barrington won it, with second place going to Bristol resident Francis Vaccaro.

Many of the races’ rules remain in effect since the first derby in 1951. However, Bristol parents were outraged that rules allowed “non Bristol” kids to enter the race. Consequently, since 1952, only Bristol residents are allowed to compete. Ten-year-old George Foster won first place in 1952, followed by Domenic Vaccaro in 1953, and in 1954 Joseph Medeira was first to streak across the finish line.

The Bristol Department of Public Works, the Bristol Fire and Rescue Squad, and the Bristol Police Department sponsor the annual event along with the cooperation of many local businesses and the Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force.

1979. Stephen Conte won the race, in a borrowed car, over seven other boys in the carriage-wheel competition. The victory, the boy’s first, earned him a 10-speed bicycle and a trophy.

In the competition for crates with wheel bearings, 12-year-old Edward Ramos won the 10-speed bicycle and the first place trophy. Edward said he knew he had a good chance at winning the race because he used the same wheels as he had used in the 1976 race. That year he also captured first place.

The third place finisher, Fred Ramos, 14, had no excuses for not capturing first place. Fred had won first place in 1975 and 1978. He said he was glad someone else won he said he didn’t really need a new bike; he would have given it to his sister had he won it.

Fred Ramos is cousin to winner Edward. In the past seven-year’s of competitions; the Ramos family won six races.

1983. Joey Medeiros, who won one of the Orange Crate Derby’s classifications each of the last three years, was too old to participate in the 1983 competition. At age 14, it was time to hand the steering wheel over to his 10-year-old brother Chris.

Jennifer Ramos, 9, had trouble keeping the front wheels of her “Shooting Star” racer from shaking during the annual Orange Crate Derby challenge. But the problem didn’t stop the youngster from winning the first place trophy and a new bicycle.

After winning her first heat, upon her return trip up to the starting ramp, Jennifer got some advice from her cousin, Frederick Ramos, “Don’t go over the manhole covers, and stay in the middle.” Frederick won the races in 1975 and 1978.

1985. A new starting ramp was devised and unveiled for the first time at this year’s annual edition of the classic homemade cart race on Bay View Avenue. The ramp allowed two carts to be started at the same time by the drop of a peg, thus eliminating the need for a push by an attendant.

 1988. Parents of boys and girls who had entered as contestants in the annual Orange Crate Derby race exchanged letters with the Committee and others; those letters printed in the Phoenix are too numerous to print here. The perceived problem was deliberate mismeasurement of the wheels of one of the carts and favoritism or bending of the rules in judging the “heats” and wheel measurement.

At that time, the rule concerning tire size said the measure may not exceed 14 inches. There was however, no regulation how it’s measured¾diameter of the rim or inner diameter of the tire, or outer diameter of the tire.

In a letter to the Phoenix dated July 21, a self-proclaimed “newcomer” to Bristol; a relocated citizen from the state of Louisiana, added his commentary to the Derby Debate. “Being a newcomer, I was shocked and amazed when I first heard Louis ‘the Duke’ Medeiros [Democrat Town Committee Chairman] argue before a packed house in Colt auditorium that ‘height has not been a dimension in Bristol for over 20 years.’”

After reading letters of criticism concerning the 1988 celebration, Chairman Vorro wrote his own letter to the Phoenix Editor. The letter is interesting on two points: Vorro opened Committee ledgers publishing certain money numbers, which are not generally released to the public. Additionally, in his letter, Vorro vents what many considered a “sour grapes” response to the earlier letters.

1990. The Orange Crate Derby exceeded its budget by $150. Richard Alegria and Fred Pacheco donated trophies. David Nunes and Brad Oliver were the winners in the derby's two divisions.

1991. Chief Marshal Anthony Agatiello, 74, a longtime Celebration Committee member, chaired the general Committee in 1964 and 1965; and he was one of the originators of the Miss Fourth of July Contest in 1948. One Subcommittee that he chaired and had a special interest in for two decades was the Orange Crate Derby.

1994. In the interest of safety, the Professional Wheels Division of the Orange Crate Derby was eliminated; no car containing ball-bearing wheels was allowed to compete.

Nat Squatrito, co-chair of the derby said, “Because the kids are really flying down Bay View Avenue, and we’ve had some really close calls in past races,” ball-bearing wheels were banned. The racecourse was shortened too. This year the run was along Bay View Avenue, from Sherry Avenue to Thompson Avenue.

New rules included the mandatory use of helmets and foot-operated brakes.

1999. With names like the “Cosmic Quahog” and “Velocity 747”, no two of the 14 competing cars were alike.

The principal drama of the day unfolded as eleven-year-old Laura Carreiro, the only girl piloting a car this year, competed against her nine-year-old brother Sam, last year’s champion racer.

Eight-year-old Ed Borges, eventually won the day, edging out Mark Daponte, 11, by only three seconds. Laura, in her colorful car adorned with fish decals placed third, and Kyle Terra, 12, came in fourth place. Officials using a radar gun were able to clock some of the racers at 24 miles per hour.

Only one accident occurred to mar an otherwise perfect racing day. Gerald Nutini, 11, lost control of his car as it came off the launching ramp and made a hard left into a female spectator who was pouring a cold drink.

Gerald, who was unhurt said, “My tire caught the edge of the ramp. I just got lemonade spilled all over me,” he said with a smile. The spectator was also unhurt.

It was a special day for Mark Ramos as well. At 14, this was the last time Mark could compete. A previous winner, Mark comes from a long line of Orange Crate Derby competitors, including his father, who raced with his brother, Lionel, when the race was open to all Bristol County youngsters.

Mr. Ramos said, back then the cars were much faster. “One year, a car ran over eight people, I think it even hit a nun.” Ramos continued, saying that some member of his family has been involved in the derby almost every one of the fifty years the race has been run. He said the cars he makes are test driven on Doran Avenue. Now that Mark has retired, Ramos said he would be encouraging his grandchildren to begin participating in a few years.

2000. With perfect weather, the races were very close, but 7-year-old Peter Borges won the 51st annual race with a time of 30.67 seconds. Last year’s winner, Edward Borges, placed seventh this year, and 13-year-old Laura Carreiro, last year’s second place winner placed third this year. Laura took home the trophy for “best looking car.”

Despite the hometown feeling of the event, the derby is a very tightly regulated contest of technical ability and driving skills.

Drivers must be Bristol residents between 7 and 14 years old and must wear a helmet with a chinstrap. Their cars can be no longer than 73 inches long and no wider than 36 inches. No added weights are permitted on the home made wooden cars, which must have foot-operated brakes. All cars must pass a rigorous safety and compliance inspection before the race.

2001. The 52nd running of the Bristol 4th of July Orange Crate Derby was held Sunday, June 3, at 3 p.m., on Bay View Avenue just below Buttonwood Street. Because of foul weather on June 3, the race was postponed until June 10.

Edward Borges Jr., said he could remember his father building a derby racer for him in the annual race 20-years ago.

More than 10 years ago, he said he helped build a car for his nephew.

Now, his sons, Ed and Peter, are old enough to enter the competition with their homemade racing cars. Borges said his father started the tradition. But his sons, 10-year-old Ed and 8-year-old Peter have put their own spin on the race, accomplishing something their father never did.

Peter shot down the course faster than the 23 other competitors, including his brother Ed. This was Peter’s second consultative win. Ed won in 1999.

Meghan McMillen, 8, was on the sidelines routing for her cousin, Alexia Oliver, with a hand-lettered sign that read, “Girls Rule, Boys Drool.”

Peter posted a winning time of 30.31 seconds; Nicholas Williams, 13, was second with a time of 30.82 seconds; and Joshua Rocha, 12, took third posting a time of 30.89.

2002. Under sunny skies youngsters in homemade racers roared down Bay View Avenue at breakneck speeds. For the fourth year in a row, a member of the Borges family won the annual soapbox derby challenge.

After all the heats were run, and as the racers were eliminated from the competition, the winners emerged as the afternoon of fun and sport wore on.

Nicholas Serbst finished third while Joshua Rocha finished an impressive second going neck to neck with the speedy Ed Borges who took the first place trophy.

Other contenders included Preston Chisholm who raced a car constructed out of scrap carbon fiber. He built his car last year with his father and made slight modifications to it for this year’s race.

Eleven-year-old Robert Cotta put careful consideration into designing his racer. Robert’s car sported a new steering wheel; a slick black paint job accented with a bulldog on the car’s hood, and authentic-looking dashboard decals. Robert confided that successful drivers owe their success to “aerodynamics.”

Bristol newcomer, Joshua Monroe, recently from North Carolina still had enough time to build and enter his car called, “Yellow Jacket.” His sleek yellow car had a little bee painted on the side with the words, “Bee Afraid” lettered next to it.

The prize for Best Looking Car went to the derby’s only female contestant, Alexia Malone-Oliver for her car decorated in red, white, and blue.

2003. For spectators at the 54th annual Orange crate Derby, the idea that the Borges brothers were on hand to try their rolling roadsters against the other 15 contestants had the spooky ring of legend.

Kelly Soccio, 7, zoomed down Bay View Avenue in a tiger-striped painted cart. She was racing against Ed Borges, the fastest kid there.

Twelve-year-old Ed Borges won the derby in 1999 and 2002. His brother Pete was the 2000 and 2001 winner. Their father, Ed, Sr., competed in the races years ago. People have begun talking about the Borges family’s derby dynasty.

A stunningly swift run by Brad Mello, 11, unsettled the Borges clan. Brad turned in the fastest time in the first trial. Five months of work produced his car, which had an oak platform fashioned from boards left over from the Mello’s new living room floor.

Josh Rocha, 14, was another strong contender. Competing in his third and final derby, Josh had won second- and third-place trophies.

Pete Borges, who lost to Brad Mello, in a close race, said crooked lane lines affected his steering. 

The final face-off came down to Brad Mello and Ed Borges. Twenty seconds after the racers rolled off the starting platform, the smell of brakes hung in the air as the cars crossed the finish line. Ed leaped joyously out of his car, and joined his brother in a victory run up the hill to the trophy table.

The Best in Show award was presented to Matt Carreiro, who made his run down the hill in a vicious-looking blue shark. Kelly Coccio’s colorful tiger car received the first runner-up trophy.

2004. The 55th running of the Orange Crate Derby challenge rolled down Bay View Avenue, on Sunday June 14, with all the zest and enthusiasm of previous races. The thirteen challengers included past winner Ed Borges who was on hand to defend his title and his family’s honor.

 This year, racers competed under slightly different rules intended to even out the competition and improve safety. The committee allowed wheels with sleeve bushings and non-high tech sealed ball bearings; roll bars were required this year, and for the comfort of growing young bodies, the vehicles’ length was increased from 73 to 78 inches.

The eventual winner with the best time, breaking the Borges family five-year dynasty, was 10-year old Chace Medeiros. Second place went to 13-year old Ed Borges and third place to 12-year old Brad Mello. This year Kelly Coccio took home the trophy for Best Designed car.

2005. The brothers Borges—Ed, 14, and Peter, 12 — were once again in the annual Orange Crate Derby competition.  However, in this year’s race, they were up against seven equally pumped-up pint-sized challengers.

In this, the 56th running of the annual free-wheeling, race down one of Bristol’s steepest, longest straight-aways a total of nine youngsters with racing fever passed down to them from earlier derby racers consisting of cousins, uncles, and fathers donned their helmets and gloves as they mounted their home-made carts at the starting ramp.

Ten-year-old Jeremiah Alves marked his third year of derby racing in his car called “Zeke and Dent,” named after a cartoon strip created by a relative. Jeremiah is a third generation orange crate racer.

For Kara Ramsey, 13, the thrill of going fast was the incentive for her to race. Kara, and Kelly Coccio represented the female side of Bristol youth in the annual race.

The youngest driver was seven-year-old Elijah Ramsay. This was the first year he was eligible to compete, but he said he would be back to race in the next seven years.

After several rounds of double elimination competition, Ed Borges, 14, went undefeated into the finals, after winning a close heat against his brother Peter. The final heat pitted Ed a previous three-time winner against Brad Mello, 13, who won second place in last year’s race. But after losing to Brad, the two ran again because of the double elimination rule. In a close finish, Brad won the first place trophy and $100.

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