CLAYTON -- Clayton comes alive each Labor Day weekend as car enthusiasts and kids of all ages come out to participate in and enjoy the Clayton Community Church's Labor Day Derby & Car Show.

In its heyday, soapbox derby racing drew in such large crowds that it was ranked as one of the top five sporting events in the country, today it's still the hottest ticket in town here.

"When you see these kids get in these cars and they're on the ramp getting ready to go ... the first time they do it, their eyes are like deer in the headlights ... wide open, not knowing what's going to happen," said event organizer Mike Fossan.

Chuckling, he added, "The 7- and 8-year-olds, they are the most fun to watch. They want to steer those cars ... right into the hay bales ... they're a kick in the pants."

Fossan said that while the first time down the 4-foot starting ramp can definitely be an eye-opener, the real racer in each kid comes out on their second shot out of the starting block.

"Once they get down there ... and do it again, they're just excited and ready to go. They actually look like car racers."

Derby races are free and open to kids ages 7-14, and trophies will be awarded to the top finishers of each age group.

But the soapbox derby cars aren't the only cars on display that day. Hundreds of classic cars and hot rods will line Clayton's streets and the field at the end of Main Street.

"We've had some pretty old ones out there," said Fossan. "We've had an old Model A, some hot rods ... an old Ford Roadster convertible -- that was pretty cool."

Fossan said that last year the car show boasted 300 registrants, and he expects they will match that number again this year.

In between checking out the car show or watching the races, families can let their kids romp around in the three jump houses located in the KinderCare parking area. Face painting will also be available at that location -- all at no cost.

Fossan credits Clayton Community Church Pastor Shawn Robinson as being the brainchild behind this free-for-all day of activities.

"It was his idea in 2004 to have the family day event ... on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend for people that don't go away for the weekend," explained Fossan. "He wanted it for the kids, and the families and he wanted it to be free and very light."

Since that inaugural event 10 years ago, the businesses in town have fully embraced the derby, increasing the initial purchase of one soapbox derby car that first year to the current fleet of 30.

Fossan said that each derby car cost $800, and not only did the local merchants and businesspeople step up to sponsor the new fleet of cars, they also had them professionally painted.

"Over the years, the businesses, the city staff, and people have really grown to like this one event," Fossan said. "It's the only event that Clayton puts on that is non-alcohol, for the family, and is free."

if you go
WHAT: Clayton's Great Labor Day Derby & Car Show
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 31; derby 9 a.m.-2 p.m. for ages 7-14; car show registration 7 a.m.
WHERE: Main Street, downtown Clayton
INFORMATION: www.claytonderbycarshow.org