Nerves of steel, cars of wood

Leonard Elementary fifth-grader Wyatt Milkovie won the Second Annual Strawberry Derby held Saturday morning in Leonard. He’s shown above with his soapbox racer “The Squishmobile.” Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
Leonard Elementary fifth-grader Wyatt Milkovie won the Second Annual Strawberry Derby held Saturday morning in Leonard. He’s shown above with his soapbox racer “The Squishmobile.” Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.

Wyatt Milkovie just started the fifth grade at Leonard Elementary School and he’s already a champion race car driver.

Sitting behind the wheel of his classic-looking, black-and-red soapbox racer named “The Squishmobile,” the young man took on all comers and in the end, was crowned champion of the Second Annual Strawberry Derby held Saturday morning in Leonard.

“I feel like my hard work paid off,” said Milkovie with a first place ribbon pinned to his chest and a trophy in his hands. “This was my first year. I came here (to watch) last year and I really liked it, so I decided to participate.”

His advice to others on how to win a race was simple and sage  – “Don’t focus on how the other person’s doing; focus on being yourself.”

A total of eight soapbox racers piloted by nine drivers sped down the  hill on W. Elmwood St. and crossed the blue finish line at Whitehead St. as a small crowd of family, friends and community members watched, cheered and filmed their efforts.

“I think it went really well,” said Addison resident Lauren LoCascio, derby organizer. “The weather held out for us, which we needed after being disappointed twice. We had a really good crowd for it not being (held) during the festival.”

The derby was originally supposed to be a big attraction at the Strawberry Festival on July 21, but the race was rained out that day. It was rescheduled for the next day, but the weather created another washout.

For the young racers, it was worth the wait.

Ethan Creps took second place in the Strawberry Derby with his sister Kaitlyn Creps (not pictured). They shared the driving duties. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
Ethan Creps took second place in the Strawberry Derby with his sister Kaitlyn Creps (not pictured). They shared the driving duties. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.

Taking second place was the brother-and-sister team of Ethan Creps, a fourth-grader at Lake Orion’s Stadium Elementary, and Kaitlyn Creps, a seventh-grader at Scripps Middle School, also in Orion.

Finishing third in his sleek red racer, named “The General,” was Grant Arundale, a sixth-grader at Oxford Middle School.

Bringing Wyatt’s “Squishmobile” to life was truly a family affair that involved his mother and father, Gerri and Matt Milkovie, and his grandfather, Greg Jarvis.

It was built on Jarvis’ farm in Attica Twp.

“We were there probably three or four days a week,” Gerri said. “It was fun. I think the best part about it was building it together. We had a great time.”

According to Matt, Jarvis did all the welding, while Wyatt and Gerri  did all the bodywork, painting, measuring and cutting. Matt’s role was “supervising.”

Emery Jones, a fourth-grader at Leonard Elementary, is fresh-faced and ready to race. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
Emery Jones, a fourth-grader at Leonard Elementary, is fresh-faced and ready to race. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.

“We did a couple (of practice runs) the night before (the race) that went really well,” Matt noted. “We knew we had a pretty fast car, but all the cars here were fast. It was really competitive.”

“We knew we were a contender, but that (second place car driven by the Creps siblings), with the taller wheels, that had me scared a little bit,” Jarvis admitted.

Wyatt’s favorite part of the race was “the thrill” of flying down the hill.

LoCascio was impressed with the sportsmanship exhibited by all the racers.

“They were all cheering each other on,” she said. “There were no tears. No one was mad. No one was upset.”

To his fellow competitors, Wyatt said, “Great job, everyone. It was a good race.”

For more photos from the race and the news all around town this week, pick up a copy of the Oxford Leader for just $1.

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