The annual soapbox derby race in Coney Island’s Kaiser Park on Aug. 23 nearly turned tragic, but for the quick-thinking heroics of one of the event’s volunteers.
Timekeeper Brian Gotlieb leapt into action when he saw one kid’s downhill racer start to careen out of control during the first heat, preventing a potentially disastrous wreck, but severely injuring his foot in the process.
“It looked as though it was going to jump off the course, so I just instinctively tried to stop the cart with my foot,” said Gotlieb, who managed to prevent a disastrous crash, but suffered broken and dislocated toes and took 13 stitches to the foot in the process.
Thanks to Gotlieb, soapbox derby driver Kyle Hall walked away with just a couple of scratches — and headed straight for a party, his father said.
“After the race, he left there and he went to a block party,” said Brian Hall.
Coney Island Generation Gap holds the race at Kaiser Park every year. The group spends a month teaching kids to pilot the gravity-powered racers, and the point is to keep kids busy and out of trouble — especially during summer months when school is out.
“We teach them not just how to keep a car straight but how to keep their lives straight,” said executive director Pam Harris.
This year, 24 racers drove cars sponsored by local businesses and organizations like the Kiwanis Club and the Police Department, she said.
Teams consisted of four kids, and area youth also helped facilitate the race. All the kids involved — about 200 — got a backpack full of school supplies and a medal, Harris said.
Gotlieb, who has acted as timekeeper in the event five years running, is hoping to bounce back from his injury and said he plans to volunteer again next year.
“Every year I know I’m doing timekeeping — anything I can do to help kids, I’m there,” he said.