Soap Box racing is in their blood

Tight squeeze: Ally Burdgick, 15, of Guilderland, gets set for one of her Soap Box rally races this year; she won her rally division and is racing in Akron, Ohio for the fourth time. She is a former champion of all three — Stock, Super Stock, and Masters — divisions of the Capital District Soap Box Derby.

Downhill battle: Ava Gamello, 8, of Guilderland, races down the hill on Madison Avenue in Albany in front of her competitor during the Capital District Soap Box Derby in June. Gamello won the Stock Division and is in Akron, Ohio this week for the All-American Soap Box Derby with her half-brother and half-sister, who will also compete at the international event.

Sharing the moment: All three of Steve Burdgick’s children — Ally Burdgick, Cameron Burdgick, and Ava Gamello — will be racing at the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio on July 26 after being named champions in their relative divisions. Cameron, left, won the Masters, while Ava, right, won the Stock, and Ally won as a rally racer.

GUILDERLAND — At this point, Akron, Ohio has become a second home for Steve Burdgick and three of his children — Ally, Cameron, and Ava — who all race Soap Box cars.

Akron is where the All-American Soap Box Derby, an international event, is held every year, and this week marks the fifth time since 2008 that at least one of Burdgick’s children has competed. In the past, Burdgick’s uncle raced; he raced; and, in 1983, his brother, Mike, won a world championship in Akron in the Masters Division.

Basically, Burdgick’s family history leads back to Akron, and most likely the future will, too.

“It’s something we always did as a family,” said Burdgick this week before heading out to Akron on Sunday. “It’s a good activity that teaches technology and mechanics. It gets the kids away from their electronics.”

At the Capital District Soap Box Derby in June, Cameron Burdgick, 13, won the Masters Division after winning Stock (2009) and Super Stock (2011). Ally Burdgick, 15, won a rally division that’s separate from the CDSBD after winning Stock (2008), Super Stock (2009), and Masters (2013); racers who win all three CDSBD divisions can no longer compete.

Ava Gamello, 9, who became Mr. Burdgick’s stepdaughter after he re-married two years ago, won the CDSBD Stock Division this year.

Mr. Burdgick had Ally and Cameron with his ex-wife, Beth, so Ava is their stepsister. Mr. Burdgick told The Enterprise that his family and the Gamello family co-exist well.

“I have the kids every other week; everyone supports the kids,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing to have three kids in Akron. Surprising, in a way.”

Ava raced last year, but wrecked her car four times. “She finally made it down [the hill] without hitting something,” said Mr. Burdgick.

There are about 420 Soap Box cars that will be racing in Akron this Saturday, Mr. Burdgick said, and most of those cars are shipped to headquarters a week prior for inspection. He said that all three of his kids’ cars received VIP status for having no problems at all.

Over his lifetime, Mr. Burdgick has built two dozen cars, and they used to have to be built from scratch. These days, there are car-building kits.

“Currently, there are nine cars in my basement, and Ava gets a new one next year,” said Mr. Burdgick. “When you get older, you learn more and more about this stuff.”

Of course, Ally, Cameron, and Ava help their father build the cars. Mr. Burdgick said that Ally and Cameron know the process pretty well, and are able to do some fiberglass work. Ava put screws into her car, which is bright pink.

“Growing up with all this racing, they’ve become quite competitive,” said Mr. Burdgick of his kids. “I’ve taught them all the little tiny details, and they have learned to drive very well.”

Traveling the Northeast for her rally circuit, Ally was able to meet a lot of different people while she racked up racing points. “It was just the two of us when we went, so it helped our bond,” Mr. Burdgick said. “I didn’t have to share the attention.”

Even though the kids — Cameron will join Ally in the rally circuit next year — are somewhat aggressive about racing, Soap Box is a focused activity that has brought them closer together.

Given Burdgick’s family history, and recent success, Soap Box Derby is in their blood.

“Cameron is already telling Ally that he’ll beat her in rally next year,” Mr. Burdgick concluded. “I’m not sure what will happen, but each of them has to win four races.”

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.