Soapbox Derby Shows How to Create Luck from Hard Work & Passion


Holy hot bananas! There is a fantastic article in the Wall Street Journal that is sure to get you lit if you were having overcast days about your business and the time you put into pursuing your ideas. I am extremely biased because this article includes my brother, which is why I read it in the first place! There are layers upon layers of reasons why I loved this article:

My brother, TJ Hellmuth, is a filmmaker and co-founder of RED Rents and Electric Orange Media. For years he has been taking job after job, honing his craft of filming while taking related jobs such as "grip" (aka big burly men who lug around lighting equipment on set to establish the lighting for the shot) and other such jobs that give him specialized experience and the ability to see scenes from different angles. Obviously there is an entrepreneurial spirit that runs in our family (ahem), leading him to invest in a special camera called the RED, which he decided to rent out to studios or individual filmmakers. He could have hemmed and hawed over the decision on investing in this particular camera, as industry talk can go both ways about which tools to use, but he trusted himself and dove in. He created different rental packages for the camera: rent the camera, rent the camera and the operator of the camera (my brother or his team), rent other equipment, and so on.

This decision led to a plethora of different jobs in different cities with different responsibilities. His latest job is for a film being made in Akron, OH about a true-to-life story of a soapbox derby that lost its funding and needed a bailout called 25 Hill. Producer/director/actor Corbin Bernsen spotted the story and wrote a script about the derby's struggle, after it lost most corporate funding in 2007 during the financial crisis when companies were being very cautionary about their return on investment, and pulling sponsorships. Not only did the derby lose funding, but it owed the bank $623,000, and the bank was calling the loan.

The timing of this is all too relevant. According to the Wall Street Journal article on the soapbox derby, "The competition began in Dayton, Ohio, during the Depression, when children started racing homemade cars. The first "All-American Race" was held there in 1934. It moved to Akron a year later. Derby Downs, the group's track, was built by the federal Works Progress Administration." And during this financial crisis, it's about to die, relying on donations and $500 licensing fees of the soapbox derby kits it sells. In the 1960's Chevrolet sponsored the race, and over the years, according to the article, "...big corporate backers brought celebrities, including Ronald Reagan, Rock Hudson, Evel Knievel, and O.J. Simpson. The late actor Jimmy Stewart attended six times." But that was long ago.

Enter Corbin Bernsen. He was attracted to the struggle of the derby, and the family feeling attached to the physical activity and passion in a time of digital connections. The derby has been trying to get creative about other sources of funding. Bernsen, for his movie, has signed a contract with Geico, the auto insurance company, according to the article. Geico will "play the role of the sponsor that comes to the rescue in the film." Additionally, Geico has agreed to sponsor the soapbox derby in real life.

Movie magic? Or a lot of hard work driven by a commitment to pursuing a dream. From my vantage point, this was the result of a lot of hard work and sticking to a vision. Not to mention the boost Akron, OH is getting for being the location of the film, as states try to create ways to attract films to spend their budgets in their towns to pump life into local businesses.

It's an all around feel-good story, with a moral: create your own luck. Work hard. Stay in touch with your passion.