Soapbox Derby fails to recognize highest ranked Black racer

Rhonda Crowder | 7/23/2014, 11:57 a.m.
She started racing only two years before claiming her title. With the assistance of her uncle, cousin and two neighbors, ...
Serita McGunia, the highest ranking African American in All American Soapbox Derby, is pictured next to the car she drives today. Photo by James W. Wade III

In 1988, Serita McGunia became the highest ranking African-American soapbox derby racer when she won second place at the All American Soapbox Derby in Akron.

Much to her dismay, she still holds the title. So, with this year’s derby rapidly approaching (scheduled for this Saturday, July 26), she thought this to be a great time to share her story.

For those who don’t know, the All American Soapbox Derby is one of the national championships within the soapbox derby sport. It’s such a big deal that a movie was made about it years ago.

No one contacted McGunia about the movie.

McGunia, who grew up near Kinsman Ave. and attended Cleveland Public Schools, explained that her uncle Ralph Estes introduced her to soapbox derby racing.

“He was very involved with the local, Cleveland soapbox derby and he had four African Americans, before I even went, go to the All American. And, this was back in the ‘70s when it was a predominately White sport,” she said.

Her uncle contested the ruling and the All American was actually going to be pushed back until reaching a decision.

However, the Cleveland Soapbox Derby came to an agreement with Estes, allowing his racers to compete in the All American. None of them placed.

Then McGunia came along.

She started racing only two years before claiming her title. With the assistance of her uncle, cousin and two neighbors, she built the car herself. “My car was pink and it had ‘I have a dream’ on the side,” she said. “My dream was to become the first African American to win the All American.”

The first year she competed, she had a full impact crash that almost deterred her from racing again. But, hate encouraged her to rebuild her car. She learned that people cheered when she crashed.

“My family was upset,” said McGunia. “When I found out about that, I knew I couldn’t give up “I had to get back out there and do my best.”

With that, the then 14 year old competed again. “I did not win but I became the highest ranking African American. I am the first and the only African American to place in the All American ever. I also led the nation in what they call rally points. I was the first African American ever to lead the nation in rally points.” McGunia also became the first African American to win the National Derby Rallies, another national championship race.

“Even in 2014, there are still people who refuse to recognize me and give me the acknowledgment that I deserve as the highest ranking African American person in soapbox derby. But, I think it’s important that the information get out there because there are African-American children who are racing today and they don’t know that there’s ever been an African American who has made it that far.”

McGunia, currently a math professor at Cuyahoga Community College, credits her participation in soapbox derby racing as sparking her interest in math and realizes that she’s a pioneer in this field as well. And today, her dream has changed. She wants to see an African American win the All American.