KNOTT’S BERRY FARM
SOAPBOX DEMOLITION DERBY
Knott’s Berry Farm – “America’s First Theme Park” – is a place filled with nostalgia and Americana. For decades it has been a respected rival to Disneyland just a few miles south, with themed attractions in years past often neck-and-neck with Disney for quality. With Knott’s eventual sale to Cedar Fair, much of its vintage charm was lost, and fan favorite rides like Kingdom of the Dinosaurs lost with it. Now, with Disney gaining control of all Cedar Fair's parks, that charm can return!
Knott’s fans might recall the old Wacky Soap Box Racers family steeplechase coaster. Set in the Roaring Twenties area, riders would race in one of four “homemade” soapbox derby cars through a cartoony 1920s cityscape. It’s the sort of chintzy outdated ride which lives on in memories, and now with a modern revitalized update thanks to Soapbox Demolition Derby.
Under Disney’s park-wide revitalization, the Boardwalk area which replaced Roaring Twenties now reverts back to Roaring Twenties. All of Knott’s modifies (where needed) following plans for Disney’s America – a plan Imagineering has actually considered for Knott’s in the past. Lands represent the Old West, the Revolutionary area, pre-European Native America and – with Roaring Twenties – a swinging Gilded Age trolley park awash with Jazz music, flappers and more inter-war optimism.
Soapbox Demolition Derby takes the place of the underutilized Charles M. Schultz Theater and an adjacent empty plot. (Space is exceedingly tight in Knott’s, and this the only available attraction area is at a premium! Theater duties, which mostly concern Knott’s Scary Farm, relocate to outdoor venues in Ghost Town.) The ride takes up multiple stories, with a footprint roughly the same as Haunted Mansion, so there’s plenty of room here for a major ride!
The façade for Soapbox Demolition Derby resembles a series of 1920s storefronts, as might be found in a romanticized amalgamation of Capone’s Chicago and Gatsby’s New York. False fronts, like in Toon Town, provide “look ins” where guests can listen to gangsters plotting or hear old-timey radios. Attraction entry is through a vintage garage, where countless pieced-together soapbox derby racers are under construction. Guests pass through a kludged-together clubhouse, like something the Little Rascals might create. They smell fresh apple pie. Admire soapbox blueprints. Nearing stairs, the queue splits into four, each leading to a unique soapbox loading platform within the garage refueling bay.
Soapbox Demolition Derby, unlike its predecessor, is located entirely indoors. It is a racing dark ride, sort of a marriage between Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Radiator Springs Racers in terms of ride style and thrill. As before, guests race each other in one of four soapbox derby racers. Each racer sits 4 guests in rows of 2, like a classic Fantasyland dark ride. Like them, there is no height limit. But thrills are coming nonetheless, for the ride system is a modified slot car racer, like a scaled-down Test Track along 4 parallel, crisscrossing tracks. Adding to that, the racers can swivel atop their wheeled bases, creating an out-of-control drifting sensation as the ride nears its chaotic climax. (Hourly capacity: 1,920)
Initially riders pull out slowly (at dark ride pace) to the starting line, flanked by hay bales and grandstands filled with cartoonish onlookers (utilizing Runaway Railroad “2.5-D” tech). Characters are outrageous 1920s caricatures. Banner overhead: “BIG RACE TODAY!” All 4 racers stop, and once a flag drops they all race out together!
The race begins along daytime city streets. Cars speed at 15 mph – which feels faster thanks to up-close scenery and wind effects. Dodging traffic (chintzy jalopy animatronics), the 4 cars weave along their not-quite-parallel tracks down curves.
Ahead, there is a police roadblock. It’s not for us – a squad of gangsters is robbing the Downtown Bank. Even so, the soapbox cars swerve to avoid this zaniness, turning down a seedy back alley. Cats leap from our path. Trash cans topple. Fire escape ladders spin away.
Ahead is a solid fence. Cars crash through steel doors (which swing away at the last second) into the gangsters’ hideout. Cartoonish criminals give chase, rushing to grab their tommy guns. (Again, animatronics are simplistic and goofy, like this generation’s Mr. Toad.) Cars dodge gunfire – air blasts past riders’ heads – as they rampage up the spiral staircase of a crumbling apartment block.
Cars rush inside the gangsters’ stolen bank vault. All around are big overflowing “$” bags…and piles of dynamite! The dynamite explodes! The vault crumbles, cars spinning, fiery blasts projected against brick walls. The floor gives way!
Cars plummet into the city’s sewers. They continue to race, diving under pipes and around waterfalls of sludge. All four tracks part ways, hurtling down tight halls! Cars rush towards each other, and swerve away at the last second! Headlights suddenly reveal enornmous rats and alligators and sewer workers!
The cars burst out through a city park’s fountain! They reach a max speed of 25 mph. Two gangster sedans pursue, animatronics on parallel tracks on each side! Ahead is a solid stone prison wall. The soapbox cars dive below it, and the gangster cars crash. Soapbox cars spin away, back onto regular city streets, back onto their intended racetrack. And before the riders can even register it, they’ve crossed the finish line! With a final randomized burst of speed, one of the four cars wins, and their lane is bathed in lights and applause.
Guests unload and exit down brick hallways past trophy cases and an animatronic newsboy bearing a newspaper: “Extra! Extra! Soapbox derby racers foist gangsters’ bank heist!” A final fresh-painted sign asks “Wanna race again?” And why not? With 4 unique tracks, a new winner each time, and a panoply of insane visuals, Soapbox Demolition Derby is a ride families will want to experience repeatedly, a wonderfully thrilling yet accessible addition to Knott’s!