Indy grandma, a cancer fighter, to become world’s oldest soap box derby racer

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A speedy Indianapolis grandmother is going to set a record this weekend.

She’s the oldest person to ever race in the Soap Box Derby National Championships. They are in Indianapolis through Monday.

Debra Houston got her grandchildren involved with the sport to help cut down on screen time. But when the coach asked if she wanted to set a record, she couldn’t say no even though she’s fighting cancer for a second time.

For Houston, it’s clear age is just a number.

“I’m 59,” she said. “I feel great and I don’t look 59. When I’m dolled up I even look better.”

She’s trying something new this weekend.

“This is going to be my first race,” she said.

That’s right, it’s her first race ever. It comes in the National Derby Rallies’ National Championships at Wilbur Shaw Memorial Hill, located near 30th Street and Cold Springs Road on the west side.

Her journey started when the grandchildren’s coach at the Inner City Youth Racing League approached her.

“He goes, ‘You’re the right size, will you do it?’ I really didn’t think he was serious.”

But, he was and she came on board.

“I don’t think I’m that old but I’m old enough to not be in these cars. Everybody says, ‘You want to be young.’ No, I don’t want to be young. I just want to set a record,” Houston said.

There are about 150 racers expected at the National Championships, coming from as far away as California, Texas and Florida to compete.

Friday was weigh-in day for the cars with the drivers inside.

“I’m 4-9 and I weigh 89 pounds,” Houston said and laughed.

Each car in the five divisions is identical to each other in terms of the weight and the weight distribution.

It’s all about setup, aerodynamics and guiding. In fact, in Houston’s division, all you’ll see are the eyes. Everything else is covered by the car or a helmet. If you’re driving, you’re doing too much.

“It’s not as hard as it looks but it’s not as easy either,” Houston said.

Wilbur Shaw Memorial Hill is named for a former Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner. The track is the longest designated soap box track in the country.

It takes about 25 seconds to make it down the 1,000 feet, or roughly two tenths of a mile. The cars reached a top speed of about 30 mph.

Houston got her grandkids started this summer thanks to a friend. She hopes it teaches them responsibility.

“These kids today, they don’t want to do nothing hardly if it don’t involve the computer. This is eight, nine hours of no computer, no phone. I love it.”

But, this serves another purpose, too.

Earlier this year, she found out her cervical cancer had come back. So there’s two chemotherapy appointments a week along with her practices.

But, that’s no problem.

“As a matter of fact, I think it keeps me going. It gives me a reason to not lay up in the bed and think about chemo and cancer,” she said.

The youngest racer in Houston’s division is 11, which means she’s more than five times as old and at least double everyone else.

She’ll try not to use that against them.

Because while she has the age record in the bag, that’s not the only one she’s going after.

“I’m going to win. I’m going to win. I’m very competitive so I’m going to win,” she said and laughed.

Houston hopes her example motivates other grandmothers to get involved with their grandkids.

As for the races, it’s a double-elimination tournament. They continue all weekend with championships set for Monday.