WELLSBURG - Wednesday's high temperatures could not slow the 10 racers in Wellsburg's Oil Can Derby nor diminish the enthusiasm of the many who turned out to see the event return.
Hundreds lined Fourth Street to watch the young racers descend from the top of the steep road by the Brooke County Salvation Army headquarters to its intersection with Charles Street.
The race was part of the city's Independence Day celebration from 1947 to 1992 with the exception of a few years when it was tried at Brooke Hills Park.
DERBY WINNERS — Winners of the Wellsburg Oil Can Derby were presented trophies by Fred Marino, the race’s coordinator. Taking part were, from left, front, Justin Shelton, who placed fourth in the super stock division; Skye Murdock, who placed third in the stock division; Austin Woodburn, second in the super stock division; Danielle Myers, fourth in the stock division; and back, Austin Provenzano, first in the super stock division; Marino, Ethan Bradley, third in the super stock division; Brendan Garvey, first in the stock division; and Courtney Cupps, who was both a driver and performer of the national anthem for the event. Cars sponsored by Mazella Welding and Fabrication and Al’s Auto received Best Appearance honors for their respective divisions. -- Warren Scott
SPECIAL RECOGNITION — Fred Marino, coordinator of this year’s Wellsburg Oil Can Derby; and the Wellsburg Fourth of July Committee presented a plaque of appreciation to Matt Camilletti for his many years as the event’s coordinator. With Camilletti is Debbie Baker, the committee’s chairman. -- Warren Scott
Its name was from the oil cans produced by Eagle Manufacturing, a local industry that was a major sponsor.
Organized by Fred Marino of Al's Auto Service, this year's race involved several heats for two divisions: stock, for a car and driver together weighing 210 pounds, and super stock, for a car and driver weighing 225 pounds.
Determined through a double elimination process, they were:
Stock: Brendan Garvey in a car sponsored by State Farm Insurance, first place; Riley Winters, in a car sponsored by Spicy Gringo's, second; Skye Murdock in a car sponsored by Merco Marine, third; and Danielle Myers in a car sponsored by Lyle's Auto Sales, fourth.
Super stock: Austin Prozenzano in a car sponsored by Bradley's Tropical Retreat, first; Austin Woodburn in a car sponsored by members of the McKinleyville Volunteer Fire Department, second; Ethan Bradley in a car sponsored by Hard Times Cafe, third; and Justin Shelton in a car sponsored by Al's Auto Service, fourth.
Awards for best appearance also were presented, with Mazzella Welding and Fabricating receiving the honor for the stock division and Al's Auto Service receiving it for the super stock division.
Trophies presented to the winners and all participants were sponsored by the Wellsburg Lions Club. The club also renewed its tradition of selling snow cones during the event.
The cones, bottles of water and other drinks helped spectators stay cool as they watched several colorful cars speed 600 feet down the street.
On several occasions, the race was so close, a videographer was called upon to determine the winner.
Marino said the most important thing was that the children had fun. With the support of the Wellsburg Fourth of July Committee, he revived the race because he wanted children to have the same experience he had building cars with his late father, Al; and racing in the derby.
Before the race's start, Debbie Baker, the committee's chair, presented a plaque of appreciation to Matt Camilletti, who organized the race for about 20 years.
"I enjoyed doing it. It was a lot of fun," said Camilletti, who had followed the race's first coordinator, Mark Dunham.
Most importantly, he said, "the kids enjoyed it." He added the event was supported by many local groups and businesses, including Banner Fiberboard. Closed in 2007, the paper manufacturer previously had supplied the ramp used to launch the vehicles.
The ramp for this year's event was provided by Mazzella Welding and Manufacturing.
Vince Mazzella said the derby was a Mazzella family tradition and they are proud to be involved again. He said his oldest brother Matthew was too big for a car when it began, but brothers Phil, Larry, Steve and he all participated.
"As each of us got bigger, the car would go to the next one," he said, adding his late father, Sam, aided them in building the cars but patiently encouraged them to work out the details on their own and learn from their mistakes as they went along.
It was an approach he didn't truly appreciate until he was an adult, Vince said.
"We learned a lot of things from my dad, and the Fourth of July was part of that," he said.
The ramp was donated in memory of Sam, who died following an accident at the family business in 2007; and Steve, who died on March 27 of cancer.
Camilletti noted the derby was not without some troubles. One year there was an accident and a spectator was hurt, resulting in a lawsuit being filed against its coordinators.
The turn of events detered some volunteers, but the event continued for a number of years.
Many past and present Wellsburg residents recalled crowds gathering along the race's course to observe 20 to 25 young racers compete.
Many of the young participants, now grown, have pleasant memories of building the cars with their fathers, grandfathers and other adults.
Dan Gilchrist was the winner of the first derby, placed second in 1948 and won again in 1949 and 1950. His children would also compete in it, with his daughter, Brenda Kerr, the first girl to win.
His grandson, Michael, won in 1990, and his granddaughter, Jennifer Kerr, placed second in the last derby in 1992, he recalled.
"It sure does my heart good to see it (the derby) back on the agenda," Gilchrist said.
Ed McMillan, a former Wellsburg resident living in Lake of Ozarks, Mo., was seen taking a photo of Gilchrist's first car, which was displayed in the window of the former G.C. Murphy building on Charles Street, the future location of the Brooke County Museum.
"I always come back back for the Fourth. There's no small town celebration for the Fourth of July like Wellsburg's," he said, adding, "A lot of us old racers are coming back for it."
"We used to race down Dairy Queen hill (on 10th Street). Those were great times," McMillan said.
George Zanos Jr. of Wellsburg, who is the second-winningest derby racer, said he was about 12 when he won in 1965 while driving a gold-colored car he built with his father and grandfather and dubbed the Golden Greek.
He credited work on the steering by his grandfather, Leonard Buchanan, for his many victories.
He was among many who thanked Marino for reviving the event.
Michael O'Brien, a former organizer of the derby, agreed, saying, "The derby was the highlight of the Fourth of July for many years and would draw thousands of people. Freddy Marino has talked for years about bringing it back. I'm glad somebody has felt strongly enough about it to bring it back."
Working with the Follansbee Community Days Committee, Marino has staged another soapbox-style derby for the festival's kickoff at Follansbee Park Sunday.
The event will begin at about 9 a.m. on Mark Avenue, the street on the park's south side.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)