The underlying idea
Arousing enthusiasm for technology – that is the idea behind the Liebherr Race. Since summer 2015 Liebherr has been planning and organizing the event in Kempten together with 14 schools. In several steps a total of 300 students designed soapboxes suitable for racing with help from Liebherr trainees. Always with the aim of generating an interest in technology among the seventh, eighth, and ninth grade students.
"The success of the project depended on good cooperation with the schools because all sides can benefit from such an event," states Jochen Weisgerber, Training Manager at Liebherr-Elektronik GmbH in Lindau. "Liebherr can establish valuable and intensive contact with schools through activities such as the Liebherr Race and generate an interest in technical professions among young people at an early age. In turn, the schools have the opportunity to implement extraordinary class projects. Allegedly unpopular subjects such as physics or maths can also be taught in an exciting manner."
The conditions were the same for all race teams: Both the timeline and the technical support were set equally for all participating classes. Liebherr provided each group with an assembly kit which formed the framework for the subsequent racing car. Each of the assembly kits also came with detailed assembly instructions, in addition to the parts for the chassis, wheels, rollover bar, steering, and driver's seat. The companies called on the Liebherr trainees in technical product design to assist with the design of the assembly kits. Together with Mr. Reinhold Wölfle, a former employee of Liebherr-Verzahntechnik GmbH, numerous trainees worked meticulously on the assembly instructions.
Manuela Sartison is one of these trainees at Liebherr and looks back on the first phase of the project: "It was great fun to share my knowledge with the students, but there were of course some challenges during the project." In particular, the compilation of the assembly instructions was not so easy: "For us product designers it was a challenge to write things we already do automatically in the assembly instructions. It is important to also convey the details to the students who are not working on such projects every day."
The construction of the soapbox
It is not surprising that soapboxes are very special small vehicles. A lot of hard work and sweat often goes into the four-wheel racing cars. There are no limits to the imagination of the designers and future soapbox pilots – a soapbox is always unique. However, the travel drive must always be the same: Only the slope driving force and two team members can get the racing car rolling with a push start. The students who took part in the Liebherr Race 2017 eagerly completed their task.
The life of each soapbox starts relatively modestly – namely with individual parts. The Liebherr companies were responsible for the provision of these individual parts and supported the school classes during the entire construction phase with their technical knowledge and expertise. The only specification: The racing car can only be powered by the slope driving force and a push-start from two team members at the start. No types of motorizations are allowed. The students screwed, hammered, and crafted either in the technical rooms of their school or in the workshops of Liebherr. Several Liebherr trainees were available as contact persons for the young inventors.
The students were mainly delighted with the change from normal lessons: "It was so much fun attempting to have a go and make something yourself. It was cool that the soapbox could then actually move!", added another participant afterwards with a grin. Despite the enthusiasm for the soapbox, there were some challenges: Only those who work together in a functioning team can be successful with the tricky construction. Similar to a proper production operation, the girls and boys had to rely on their colleagues and look for solutions together. The working hours during the construction phase were also recorded in the operation in order to be able to calculate approximate production costs of the individual soapboxes at the end. The students also looked after the marketing of their teams themselves. It was necessary to create a Facebook post for the construction of the soapbox and, for example, make a film or take photos for this purpose
Economic relationships in technical areas of responsibility were integrated in the Liebherr Race. This gives the participants the opportunity to obtain a good impression of the working world at an early stage. For instance, Alexander Kilb is also delighted with the project. He is the head teacher for crafts and technical drawing at the secondary school on Salzstrasse in Kempten: "The opportunities for such special things do not exist in normal classes and lessons." Beate Rohrmüller, Vice Principal of the secondary school in Lindenberg, is delighted with the cooperation with Liebherr. She stated enthusiastically: "Here in our school this is a real joint project because all three eight-grade classes are on board. We are burning with enthusiasm!"
On the podium with superb design
Self-constructed soapboxes are real one-offs. Not only is the construction of such a racing car always different, but the teams have absolute freedom in the design of the self-constructed racing cars. The seventh, eight, and ninth class students did not need to be told twice and worked really hard on the project. The product is outstanding!
Even those who were not successful in the fastest time category still had the chance of a place on the podium in the Liebherr Race 2017. In addition to the first three places, a prize was also awarded for the best soapbox design. In order to convince the jury the roughly 300 students had to think of ways and come up with novel features: The team with the racing car "Flotten Karotten" from Kressbronn at Lake Constance, for example, positioned a bright orange carrot as a logo on the front of the soapbox. The racing team impressed the jury even further with additional electronic light effects. In order to use LED lighting successfully, certain technical skills are required. Proper installation and above all the proper connection of the electronics was a minor challenge for the handicraft enthusiasts.
Each team had a predefined budget that they could spend for various purposes. Many groups sought the expert support of a carpenter, others contacted a printing shop. It was important that the students made these decisions together with their respective team colleagues. Some teams convened extra meetings – like in real working life. One student remembers: "We all discussed the matter and every student had their own ideas. In the end, we decided together in the team. That was really cool because our soapbox now looks exactly as we all wanted it too." One team used the design of their racing car for aerodynamic benefits and installed two spoilers on their soapbox.
The soapbox of the race team "Dreiländereck-Spress II" from the secondary school Dreiländereck in Lindau
The soapbox of the race team "SRT Bodnegg 2" from the Bodnegg Education Center
The soapbox of the race team "Die Fantastischen Racers" from Hildegardis secondary school
The soapbox of the team "BoGy Snail-Box" from the Lake Constance secondary school in Lindau.
The soapbox of the race team "Dreiländereck-Spress I" from the secondary school Dreiländereck in Lindau
The soapbox of the race team "Black Bats" from the public secondary school in Kempten
The soapbox of the race team "Die flotten Karotten" of BZP from the Parkschule Education Center in Kressbronn
The soapbox of the race team "Bobbe’s Fan Club" from the primary/secondary schools in Buchenberg
The soapbox of the race team "SRT Bodnegg 1" from the Bodnegg Education Center
The soapbox of the race team "Kranich des Untergangs" from the secondary school in Lindenberg
The soapbox of the race team "Lisl-Racing" from the Parkschule Education Center in Kressbronn
The soapbox of the race team "Flash" from the public secondary school in Lindenberg
The soapbox of the race team "Pinki Flower I bi a Mädle" from the primary/secondary schools in Buchenberg
The soapbox of the race team "Chili Peppers" from the secondary school in Lindenberg
The soapbox of the race team "Veni, Vidi, Vici" from the public secondary school in Kempten
The soapbox of the race team "Race Team 8FT" from the public secondary school in Kempten
The soapbox of the race team "Sweet Candys" from the Maria Ward School in Kempten
The soapbox of the race team "No Name Petrolheads" from the secondary school in Lindenberg.
The soapbox of the race team "Fanta 10" from the secondary school in Lindenberg
The soapbox of the race team "Feuerblitz" from the public secondary school in Obergünzburg
The soapbox of the race team "Die nach dem Weg fragen" from the secondary school in Durach
The soapbox of the race team "Zimmer 223" from the secondary school in Durach
The soapbox of the race team "Seifis" from the public secondary school in Lindenberg
The soapbox of the race team "Helden der Kindheit" from the Maria Ward School in Kempten.
The soapbox of the race team "Lamborghini R14" from Hildegardis secondary school
The soapbox of the race team "Durach Racers" from the secondary school in Durach
The race day
On your mark, get set, go! On July 15, 2017, it was time and the 26 student teams delivered a first-class race with the self-constructed soapboxes. The preparations for the Liebherr Race took 16 months altogether: Starting with the construction of the basic framework to the compilation of the material sets at Liebherr through to the subsequent assembly of the kits, as well as the design of the soapboxes by the schools. Since March, the individual student teams from 14 schools have been working meticulously to create the best possible conditions for a win at the race on July 15 on the grounds of Liebherr-Verzahntechnik GmbH in Kempten.
180 meters racetrack, several narrow bends, and 26 race teams as direct competition – the challenges on the day of the race were numerous and each team had a different tactic to win in the time category. One team used a streamlined design, such as the "Flash" team from the public secondary school in Lindenberg; other teams focused on challenges such as "Brake and Lose!" or on the proper technology when giving the soapbox a push-start. In the test run in the morning on the Liebherr grounds in Kempten, the drivers grappled with the track for the first time. The rules were clear: Push-starts were only allowed up to the starting line and only when the traffic light was green. Otherwise, there was a five second penalty for a false start, which could cost the team victory. Faults on the track that were also included in the assessment were traffic cones which marked the bends for the soapbox drivers.
Just under 1500 visitors came to the Liebherr Race to support their race teams. In addition to the teachers, parents of the students, and the trainees and organizers of the race, three managing directors of the respective Liebherr companies did not miss the opportunity to be at the race on Saturday. In addition, the Kempten town council and sports commissioner Franz Maier also came, as well as representatives from the participating schools and the Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
"Dear students, you worked really hard on the construction of your soapboxes and showed your fascination for technology", stated Michael Schuster, Head of Finance at Liebherr-Verzahntechnik GmbH in his opening speech. "Now it comes down to how streamlined the racing car you built is – may the best team win!" The individual soapboxes drove down the racetrack one after the other to music each team selected. In addition to classics such as "Highway to Hell" by AC/DC or "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes, many teams also chose Helene Fischer's "Atemlos" and the electro-house mix of "Bob the Builder".
Liebherr employees checked the proper functioning of the 26 soapboxes of the student teams in detail before the race – safety was top priority at the Liebherr Race and a prerequisite to receive permission to start. Ralf Büttinghaus, Training Manager at Liebherr-Aerospace Lindenberg GmbH, and Jochen Weisgerber, Training Manager at Liebherr-Elektronik GmbH in Lindau, performed this test together with Reinhold Wölfle, a now retired employee of Liebherr-Verzahntechnik GmbH in Kempten and co-developer of the soapbox. They mainly tested the brakes, the steering, and the fixed attachment of the seat belts. Helmets were also mandatory for the race. Everything else such as cool leather gloves, casual race driver goggles, and overalls like at Formula 1 were often borrowed from proud parents, who cheered on their children at the side of the track on the race day. "My son has spent every Wednesday afternoon since the Easter holidays working on the soapbox with his team – with plenty of enthusiasm and verve", summarizes Mira Bornhäuser. "Today the entire family also had fun. I think it is great that all proceeds from the beverages are being donated to relief organizations."
The timing of the individual race was measured accurately using light barriers that the Liebherr trainees built extra for this event. The race performance of the individual teams varied significantly with times between 12 and 29 seconds from start to finish. "We didn't take the bends tight enough", is how Finn from class 7a at Hildegardis secondary school in Kempten summed it up. "This then ate into our time." "The Chili Peppers" from the secondary school in Lindenberg were the overall winners in the time category – with 15.35 seconds in the first and 17.23 seconds in the second stage. When the "Chilli Peppers" were asked about what ultimately decides between victory and defeat, the pilot Nick Volkmer responded: "I took the bends well. However, I must also extend a big thank you to the people who gave me the push-start. They did a fantastic job! I always had a super start!"
The teams who did not win in the race itself were able to prove their skills in other categories: The "Sweet Candys" team from the Maria Ward School in Kempten won in the quality category and as an all-girls' team clearly demonstrated their technical skill. The jury awarded the impeccable installation of the kit, the good processing of the body materials added, and the precision adjustment. Christine Hingerle from the winning team stated with a smile: "It was definitely down to the tires. We fitted and removed the tires five times until they finally fit."
In the design category, the imaginativeness and resourcefulness of the students were honored. "The creativity of the young people was impressive! There was everything from the unicorn to the Ferrari through to the light flashes! It was difficult for us to select one winner from the 26 superbly designed soapboxes", added Walter Ferstl, Training Manager at Liebherr-Verzahntechnik GmbH. "In the end it came down to the finer details." For the winning team, the "Seifis" from the secondary school in Lindenberg, the bubble machine was definitely decisive. Nevertheless, the self-sprayed bubbles on the racecar also impressed with their 3D look and helped the team around Stefanie, Theresa, Cosima, Ronja, and Jan to victory.
The self-marketing of the team worked best for the winners in the Facebook post category: The joint film of the two teams "Bobbes Fan Club" and "Pinki Flower I bi a Mädle" from the primary and secondary school in Buchenberg built up suspense with rapid slides, cool music, and good images and showed how the team prepared for the big day with test runs, for example.
The Liebherr Race 2017 was a huge success. Josef Gropper, Head of Operations at Liebherr-Aerospace Lindenberg GmbH is also convinced: "The event could not have gone any better. I am impressed by the Liebherr Race idea where young and old come together and the fun everyone had was noticeable." In addition, Claus von Reibnitz, Head of the Electronics Industry at Liebherr-Elektronik GmbH in Lindau, added: "Today for many people technology is often only what one uses, e.g. a smartphone. However, for me to design technology itself and to know how something works is the real fascinating part! And to share this fascination through the Liebherr Race makes me really happy!"
The history of the soapbox
Soapbox derbies have a long tradition in the USA, but also in Germany the sport can look back on a vivid history. The early days of the vehicles are in a small, sleepy town in Ohio, but they quickly won the hearts of many racing drivers – also in this country.
According to legend, the term "soapbox" goes back to the American journalist Myron Scott. In 1933 he lived in Dayton, in the State of Ohio, and was looking for a new story for the local paper. As it so happens, there were simply no good stories for his next article. Fortunately for him, a few children not far from him held a race on a small hill. They pushed wooden frames, which they retrofitted into racing cars from pushchair wheels, up the hill and then zoomed down. The racing car drivers tried to outdo each other and be the fastest. Myron Scott was so impressed by this idea that he published a photo reportage in the next edition of the paper. And the right name for the adventurous vehicles also came to him quickly. The racing cars reminded the journalist of a "soapbox".
However, the resourceful Myron Scott did not leave it with a newspaper story, but he merchandised his idea in grand style. He quickly secured the required rights and the following year organized the first "Soapbox Derby". When the first race was held in 1934 in Dayton, 300 racing drivers took part and 40,000 proud spectators cheered on the children during their speedy downhill run.
The early success inspired Myron Scott and he soon exported his idea across the borders of his hometown. In 1934, 50 towns in the USA held their own soapbox derby. They received active support from regional daily newspapers and the local automotive industry. The popularity of the sport grew year on year to the extent that clubs were founded which agreed on common rules and standards for the organization of the soapbox derbies.
The soapbox derbies only came to Germany after the Second World War. At the suggestion of American commissioned officers the "German Soapbox Derby" was founded, which quickly found loyal supporters and in the 1950s experienced a real boom. A well-known sponsor from the automotive industry was recruited, through which the financial means were made available to organize soapbox derbies throughout Germany. Unfortunately the involvement of the sponsor was short-lived. Support was already withdrawn in the 1970s to the extent that the organization and implementation of official soapbox derbies was left to the "Deutsche Seifenkiste Derby e.V.". Also today the association is a central controlling and management body.