Alana Durica had a tough decision to make Saturday.
She was scheduled to perform as a Lost Boy in the Windmore Foundation for the Arts production of “Peter Pan, Jr.” but she another event circled on her calendar at the same time.
This was her second year racing in the Piedmont Area Soap Box Derby and she wanted to go down the hill with her brother Aidan. So she raced.
Her decision paid off.
Alana won the Stock Division of the derby Saturday, besting Russell Rabb in the finals.
Tears streamed down Durica’s face as she sat in her car past the finish line, her mouth agape at what she had accomplished. They were tears of joy, she said.
“Because last year I got bumped out so quickly,” Alana said. “I wasn’t expecting any of this. I’m just so happy that I made it this far.”
At the beginning of the day, Alana was asked what she hoped for by Culpeper Media Network’s Jonathan Krawchuk.
“I just hope my brother wins,” Alana said.
So how did it feel when she was the Durica in the winner’s circle?
“It’s just so crazy,” Alana said. “It was totally unexpected and at first a little scary.”
She has grown up on the infield at Paul Bates Raceway, watching her older brother race and biding her time till she could go down the hill. Now, in her second year, she’s a local champion moving on to the All-American Derby in Akron, Ohio.
“She’s sat there for five years now, watching me race, and for her to get it is just amazing,” Aidan said. “She’s always wanted to be there with me and she’s always wanted to do the things I do. I love the fact she wants to follow after me.”
Alana, 11, a seventh grader at Floyd T. Binns Middle School received hugs from all the derby volunteers, pausing to share a special moment with Paul Bates Sr. and Fontaine Halsey. Did the two senior track specialists give her advice to turn her strategy around?
“That’s classified information,” she said with a sly grin.
Alana beamed as she was showered with praise, showing how much she loves the derby,
“It means so much because Frankie (Gilmore) is amazing and Sheila (Rutherford) is amazing and everybody here supporting me makes me feel so great,” Alana said. “When i go down the track I just feel so happy to be here and I love this place.”
Her mom Heather Connally and dad Todd Durica quickly embraced her as she got off the track.
“I’m so happy for her,” Connally said. “She has just embraced it, she just loves it and this is just wonderful.”
It took 15 years, but the Piedmont Area Soap Box Derby finally has a Triple Crown winner.
Zachary Miller just needed to add a Super Stock trophy to his case to become the derby’s first three-time winner in every division. Miller won stock in 2012 and the local Masters race in 2016. This year, he slid down to Super Stock with the goal of bringing home that final trophy.
“I feel happy, I’m ready to go back to Akron again,” Miller said. “But it was a great race and I thank everyone very much.”
Miller defeated Luke Morris in the finals in a close race, and then jumped out his car, hands in the sky as he soaked in the cheers
This is Miller’s fifth time going to Akron, having two rally trips as well – one for Super Stock and one for Masters.
“It’s still fresh, just like I’m a new driver,” Miller said.
Jacob Pritchett cashed his ticket to Akron in his third year racing in the Super Kids race.
The Super Kids race allows children with special needs to go down the hill with junior committee driver, giving them the chance to participate in a derby. Titus Konold was at the wheel as Pritchett rode along with a giant grin on his face all afternoon. He was happy he won, but he was just as happy he and his friends had fun.
“I’m super excited,” Pritchett said. “I feel like I’m surprised.”
Pritchett, who has Down’s Syndrome, also competes in the Special Games and does Kung Fu. His mom Heidi Conto said it’s important to give children with special needs a chance to participate.
“It’s just wonderful that they do this,” Conto said. “It really means alot to have these different events they can participate in.”
Conto embraced her son as he beamed from ear to ear, accepting congratulations from his opponents.
“This is our third year coming out here, we didn’t expect to get this far,” Conto said. “We’ve just had a ball. He loves to compete and be with all his friends.”
Sponsors of the trophies from each of the three races (Stock: Union Bank & Trust, Super Stock: Wise Services & Recycling, Super Kids: Rosson & Troilo) surprised the drivers going to Akron with a gift of $1,000 to help cover expenses.