Skip to main content

Build Day for boxcar derby brings, kids, families and volunteers downtown

By Joanne Beck


There was one part about an upcoming boxcar race that especially appealed to Mason Dominiak, he said.

The 13-year-old likes speed.

“I like racing,” he said Saturday at Jackson Square in Batavia. “The adrenaline of going fast, I like going really fast.”

He and Adrian Tabelski were watching Adrian’s dad work to gradually put together a boxcar for them. The boys are participants of a first-ever Batavia Business Improvement District Boxcar Derby. Handmade creations will take off down the Ellicott Avenue hill at 9:30 a.m. sharp on Aug. 27.

Saturday was “Build Day,” and about 10 kids and their parents picked up their car kits and took them home to work on while the remaining 20 stopped by throughout the day to put their cars together with hands-on support from many BID committee members and community volunteers.

In between sounds of construction equipment, Adrian, 10, said that his participation was sort of a surprise.

“My mom signed me up,” he said.

Adrian in turn invited Mason to come along. They are sharing the initial duties of assembling and decorating a car, and both agreed that Adrian would be taking the wheel on race day. He has never been in a boxcar, but has “learned a lot about construction” during the day, he said.

Mason didn’t think he’d know as much as he did. Then again, he has worked on vehicles — four-wheeling is his favorite ride — and once had to take an entire engine out for a piston issue, he said. He will be there on race day to root on his friend. They began to brainstorm their car's exterior: how about black and gold with flames for a design, they agreed.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Mason said.

Committee member Lydia Schauf had telltale signs of sawdust on her black outfit. Using a saw, perhaps? No, drilling into wood.

“So we found out that they're doing the boxcar thing, and they were doing a build day. So we all came out and said that we’ll volunteer and help cut out templates, like my dad said, and just help build wherever we can with these kids,” she said. “It was fun to get out and try my hand at it.”

Lydia gave her dad, Rich Schauf, a nudge to join her in the effort. She also brought friend Marianne Pautler with her.

When asked if there had been any mishaps yet, Pautler smiled and nodded yes.

“I might have added a couple extra pieces here and there,” she said. “Those two extra pieces slid in. But hopefully it's been rectified. We went back through and pulled them out,” she said. “So yeah, just putting the kits together so that they're ready for the people to pick up or build here.”

Looking like he was ready to hunker down for some work, Rich Schauf, wearing a thick gray headband, happily obliged his daughter’s request, he said. He saw lots of enthusiasm during his time there.

“I thought it was a very worthwhile project,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of kids. And it's been really great to see these young kids and their excitement. I don't know if memory is still serving people about it, or if this will be new to people, but it's pretty exciting. And if you remember back in the day, it was quite good.”

There were stations with various tools and materials set up for the project, and several committee members and volunteers on hand to help. Participants each received a car kit, and BID merchants have been supportive of the idea, Executive Director Shannon Maute said. The race will be double elimination, which means several — about 50 — races on event day.

She and the others encourage spectators to join the fun and root for the kids. There will be tents set up and pizza and beverages for sale afterward as a “picnic in the park” BID style at Centennial Park, she said.

“We would like to make this a really large event. I mean, how fun cheering on these kids going down the hill, because what a feeling of a park filled with people cheering you on when you're going down this ramp,” she said. “I have challenged every child that I've come in contact with, because I built a car and I have challenged them to race me, so it's gonna be fun.”

She joked that she threw the gauntlet down to committee member Chris Suozzi, but believes that “he’s afraid to race me.”

The actual race is not in the downtown business district, she said, but merchants were OK with that. Ellicott Avenue has not only a nice hill that’s in the city but also was used years ago for similar races, she said.

“We had talked at length if anyone minded us doing (this) actually outside of the downtown area, but everyone was all for it because it's really more about the kids and not the district,” she said.

Other members Saturday included Jim Krencik, Lauren Becht, Gail Tenney, John Roche, and volunteers Don Cunningham, Jay Steinbrenner, Ron Galdun, Derek Ells, and TJ Henderson. Genesee Lumber cut and delivered the wood needed for the car kits.

The adults have taken care of all of the “logistics,” Krencik said, so that “the kids can focus on the hands-on skills that they’re learning by building the boxcars.”

“And then having a lot of fun racing them,” he said. “Our goal really was, for Build Day, to see the kids, their smiles as they’re walking away with these projects that they’re gonna dive into. And it’s going to be several hours of memories that I think are gonna really inspire them as they go through middle school, high school and, for my hat with GCEDC, to integrate into careers.”

As for the fun of it, someone suggested to him to think of the Little Rascals movie, in which the impish kids race boxcars. That sealed it for Krencik, he said, and that movie has fueled his zeal for the grand finale next month.

“It's really gonna be fun on August 27, to see these kids take off … it’s right at the corner of Centennial Park. But I liked that the race kind of goes towards the heart of the BID,” he said. “Because I think that's the energy that's right there. And it's getting more memories for those kids coming downtown like they are today.”



Parents, committee members, volunteers, and kids got together to build some boxcars Saturday at Jackson Square. Photos by Jim Krencik.

Authentically Local