January 2008 Issue
Up to Speed
It’s no wonder the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum is revved up about its recent acquisition: an auto that’s truly in a class by itself. The car, donated by officials at Akron’s All-American Soap Box Derby, was driven by Denny Zimmerman, the only driver to race in both the All-American Soap Box Derby championships in Akron and in the Indianapolis 500.
Zimmerman drove in the Derby in 1954, losing in an early round of the finals in Akron. After the car spent the next 36 years in the basement of his father’s Connecticut home, Zimmerman donated it to the Derby in 1990. This fall, the Derby donated the car to the 500’s Hall of Fame Museum.
|Soap Box Derby general manager Jeff Iula
Soap Box Derby general manager and historian Jeff Iula explains that more than 15,000 drivers have competed at the Soap Box Derby championships and the Indy 500.
“That’s a pretty significant number, yet only one kid in America –– Denny Zimmerman –– has ever done both,” Iula says.
Zimmerman attended the ceremony in Indianapolis. “I was honored to be a part of it,” he says proudly.
The Glastonbury, Connecticut, native raced in local contests in his home state for two years before qualifying for Akron at the age of 15.
“That was the biggest thing that ever happened in my life,” he says. “It was very exciting.”
Now a commercial pilot, Zimmerman went on to drive in the Indy 500 in 1971 and 1972. “That was fantastic,” he says. “Once racing gets in your blood, it’s there for good.”
Iula, who was born in Indianapolis, arranged to donate Zimmerman’s car.
“I’ve loved racing ever since I was 5 years old,” he says. “I love Indy because I was born there, and I love the Derby because I’ve worked here for 33 years. My dad ran the race for 20 years before I did.
“It’s always a big thrill.”
— Steve Herrick