Double win caps soap box career

Joey Payeur

At the end of it all, Marie-Mai Langevin was too good for her own good.
The 12-year-old Fort Frances resident returned from the 80th running of the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby world championships in Akron, Ohio on July 16-22 with a pair of trophies in the Super Stocks division.
But after winning the division at the qualifying race in June in Valley City, N.D., Langevin also unintentionally ensured that Akron would be the finish line for her racing days after five years of competition.
“If you win your division at the qualifier, the rules say that you have to take your car out of competition and go up to the next division,” explained Langevin, who last was at the worlds in 2014.
“For me, that would mean the Masters division,” she noted. “But they don’t have a Masters category at Valley City and it’s too far for me to travel to get to any of the Masters events.
“I’m happy that I finished on a good note, but I’m disappointed that I can’t continue.”
Langevin took first place in the International Race at Akron, featuring mostly non-American racers, although a couple of U.S. drivers were added in to fill out what was a five-racer field.
Each driver took part in three preliminary races, with those having the two best combined overall times advancing to the final.
Langevin won all three of her preliminary heats–despite having to start from each of the three lanes, with not every one running naturally as fast as the others.
She also had to swap out the wheels on her car after each race.
“I was surprised I won all three,” Langevin admitted.
“But the first time going down the track after not having been there in three years, I felt good confidence.”
In the three-race combined time final, Langevin faced a New Zealand driver who won the first and second races.
“I just told myself I had to go as straight as possible and duck my head as much as I could to go faster,” she recalled.
The strategy worked as Langevin blasted down the track and won by enough to erase the time deficit and take the championship.
“I was shocked that I caught her,” she grinned.
“It was a good start for the rest of the week.”
But the victory might have given Langevin too comfortable a mindset entering the Rally Race event.
“I think I was a little too confident going into that one,” she conceded.
Langevin lost her first preliminary race, won the second, then lost the third and did not qualify for the final.
“I felt there was a lot of wind during the Rally Race that affected me,” she noted.
“Also, when I raced on Lane No. 1, you have to race really close to the wall to get the best line for speed,” she added.
“But someone who raced just before me had hit the wall and zigzagged their way down the track, and I was scared to hit it, too, so I didn’t go as straight or as fast as I could.”
The ultimate showdown came in the World Championship Race, which featured 83 racers.
Langevin’s first battle in that event was bittersweet.
“My best friend I made down there during the week was Sadie,” she said about Sadie Middleton, another 12-year-old who hails from Cape Girardeau, Mo.
“It ended up we had to face each other in the first round.”
Langevin put their friendship aside for a few seconds to easily beat Middleton to the finish line with the fastest time of any car in the first round.
That put her into the second round against 11-time worlds veteran Zachary Miller from Culpeper, Va.
The two dashed down the track in lockstep, and it took a photo finish to determine that Miller had nosed out Langevin by mere thousandths of a second on his way to a third-place overall finish.
“I thought I had won,” said Langevin, who still managed a top-36 finish for making the second round.
“Then as I was braking, I heard the other person’s name announced and was pretty disappointed.”
But when Langevin returned to her pit area not long after the race, she found something special waiting: the trophy for having the best decorated car of the entire competition–repeating her accomplishment from 2014.
“I kind of thought I could win it and I wanted to win it, but I wasn’t sure I would,” said Langevin, who was grateful for the support from her parents, Celine and Patrick Langevin, during her soap box derby career.
“My dad worked really hard on my car and my mom would help,” she noted.
“I’m very thankful for all their help and for getting me to the races.”
This may not be the end of the Langevin family’s involvement in soap box racing, though, as her younger brother, Yannick, may want to stay in the sport although that decision will be made next year.
Would Langevin consent to being on her brother’s pit crew?
“I might help him although if he gets out of line, I’ll remind him who’s got the bigger trophies,” she laughed.
Langevin’s swan song in racing also will be told in the pages of one of Montreal’s biggest newspapers, La Presse.
“I was on the La Presse website and saw they had posted some historic photos of old soap box derbies,” said Patrick Langevin.
“I called them and told them we had just got back from the soap box worlds, and they were interested in doing a story.”
And what is Marie-Mai’s reaction to being read about in one of Canada’s biggest cities?
“Pretty cool,” she grinned.