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Tuolumne racer heads to Soap Box Derby nationals

Maggie Beck / Union Democrat Twelve-year-old Coleton Betzler (above) became the first Tuolumne resident to qualify for the All-American Soap Box Derby world championships. He will head to Akron, Ohio later this month to compete in the race.
A local youth driver is the first Tuolumne resident to qualify for the All-American Soap Box Derby.

Coleton Betzler, 12, will travel to Akron, Ohio to take part in the big international race on July 27.

The Summerville elementary student will compete with more than 400 racers, ages 7-17, from around the world with hopes of winning a $5,000 scholarship and merchandise prizes. 

Coleton qualifed for the world championship finals after crossing the finish line in first place during the Northern California All-American Soap Box Derby June 9 in Tuolumne at the Tuolumne County Lumber Jubilee.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” Coleton’s mother Amanda Betzler said. “He is the first kid to live in Tuolumne City to ever win this race.”

But he might not be able to contend with some of the best soap box derby drivers in the world. Local race director Brad Smith estimates that Coleton will need about $5,000 for food, lodging and traveling expenses during the week-long event, money that he will need to fundraise on his own.

Since winning the race last month, Coleton has raised a little more than $2,000 alone already.

“He wrote a letter asking for sponsorship and has been going door-to-door passing out his letters,” Amanda said.

Coleton got the inspiration to race after watching his uncle, Gary Montgomery, race drag cars when he was younger.

“He got involved in racing these cars three years ago when his uncle passed away unexpectedly,” Amanda said. “His uncle was a race car driver and a truck driver.”

Montgomery was 59.

“It was an accidental thing,” she said. “He fell and hit his head. He ended up dying from MRSA from his brain.” 

Coleton is trying to keep his uncle’s memory alive by racing in his honor. 

“My uncle — he died,” he said. “ So I wanted to race cars too, for him.”

Coleton will compete in the 240-pound Super Stock advanced division.

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