“Get out of the road!”
Stand amongst the crowd on one of the many front yards on Kirby Street in Raleigh during the Kirby Derby, and you’re sure to hear that statement over and over. Why? Because for one day each year, the road is reserved for a host of costumed individuals and decorated soapbox cars. Past that, it’s hard to predict what may happen next.
What started as an excuse for the neighbors to get together for a parade and have a good time 15 years ago, is still very much that—with a few more hundred people there to watch and join in on the fun.
"Kirby Derby is a full on neighborhood event. It only happens with extraordinary effort of the neighborhood as a whole, both to prepare for the event, and throughout the day of the event," said Beth Khalifa, who first started the event with her husband, Aly, in 2002. "From getting on the mic and emceeing the whole thing, to registering participants, to starting a race or judging the finish…sound system set up, hay bales, food truck choices, city permits…the list goes on and on, and it is all managed, put on and paid for by our small neighborhood of 32 addresses."
The evening starts out with a pinewood car derby, just like the cars they race in the Boy Scouts, followed by a parade of everyone competing in the next few events as well as anyone else who wants to join in with a costume or a float. The different themes each year encourages everyone to enjoy the freedom of creative expression and witty interpretation. Next is the “drag” race where men wearing heels and a skirt “speed swagger” their way down and back up the hill before the main event: the derby.
At least three wheels and a brake are required of all engine-less cars that race down the hill and around “Dead Man’s Curve,” the sharp turn at the bottom where many a soapbox car has crashed or tipped over in the past. No matter your vantage point, you’re sure to see quite the spectacle as dragons, magic carpets, and even Cinderella’s shoe roll on by. Over the loud speaker the announcer tells the name of each car and the increasing sound of the cowbells let you know when it’s near.
Before you know it, over a dozen cars have competed and a winner is declared—this year’s trophy went to Rip Van Winkle’s Dream Weaver. To end the night, food trucks and an after party welcome all who aren’t quite ready for the fun to stop.
It's not everyday that you see a car depicting the story of the three little pigs with a man dressed as a wolf for the driver, but sometimes the best days feature a bit of whimsy and fun.
"Neighborhoods are what make Raleigh special. Our small neighborhood is part of that special fabric, and Kirby Derby is our contribution to the ever growing number of sweet neighborhood events that happen throughout the year around the city," said Khalifa.
If any neighborhood knows how to do it right, it's the residents of Kirby Street.