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The PDX Adult Soapbox Derby is pure, absurd fun

We hear the carts a-rollin’, they’re coming down the hill.

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It’s like John Mayer sings, “gravity wants to bring me down.” Every August, a legion of brave Portlanders go toe to toe with the unforgiving law of physics and each other in one of the city’s best summertime traditions, the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby.

Crowds in the thousands gather on the slopes of Mount Tabor (a literal volcanic cinder cone) to cheer on participants of the beloved event, which features costumed characters careening downhill on their artistically scientific homemade carts.

You can almost feel the disapproval of racers’ parents, wherever they may be — but as the name makes perfectly clear, they are grown people who just happen to be kids at heart.

People line up at food vendor booths at the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby in 2019.

Food + drink vendors will be in “Blood Alley” and “The Pits.” | Photo via Jason DeSomer/Whatever.Photo

Jason DeSomer

It’s all downhill from here

  • Co-founder Paul Zenk was inspired to create the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby when he witnessed a similar exhibition in the Mission District of San Francisco.
  • It’s occurred every summer since 1997, bar a two-year pandemic hiatus. In 2020, a miniature version was held instead.
  • Up to 10,000 spectators have shown up in the past. The contest is entirely volunteer run and free, although donations are much appreciated.
  • The track record was set in 2016 by Justin James (Team Rusty Rocket) at 71.10 seconds.
  • A 501(c)(3) since 2018, the nonprofit’s “Brush Clean-Up Crew” gives back to the community by helping clean up invasive plants in Mount Tabor Park.
  • 2022’s competition honored Dennis Lee Roth, a fixture of the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby who passed away the previous year. He started as a course marshal in 2009, eventually moving to starting line officiant. Organizers wore his signature straw hat in his memory.