AKRON -- The financially struggling All-American Soap Box Derby has landed a title sponsor from its hometown in Akron.
The Derby announced Wednesday that FirstEnergy Corp. electric utility, also based in Akron, will be the title sponsor for the 75th running of the event July 21.
The sponsorship deal is good for three years.
The nonprofit Derby lost sponsors and was sued over bad loans in 2009.
The city of Akron guaranteed the loans and the Derby went to work on budget cutting and fundraising.
Then the Derby received some national attention from actor Corbin Bernsen. It sparked after he read a story in USA Today about the Derby's financial struggles. Instantly, he was inspired to make a movie about Akron's gravity race to raise more awareness and money to help keep the tradition alive.
He did just that and temporarily turned Akron into Hollywood for "25 Hill," a film about a young boy who strives to save the struggling Derby.
"What Corbin did for the Derby is what no one has done for the Derby," Joe Mazur, president and CEO of the All-American Soap Box Derby, said. "It's unbelievable what he's done for us here in Akron and what he's done for the Derby across the world."
Bernsen, who is currently in Akron filming "3 Day Test" -- his second movie in the city -- was very excited to hear the news about FirstEnergy stepping up.
"I'm thrilled that our efforts with '25 Hill' have played a role in helping the All-American Soap Box Derby, a great American tradition, to get back on its feet and show enough 'energy' behind it to secure a new title sponsor - FirstEnergy. What a fitting match!" he said in an e-mail to WKYC.com. "I'm even more thrilled that this sponsor is Ohio (Akron) based and might serve as a challenge to other potential local sponsors to also step up. FirstEnergy has been behind '25 Hill' from its inception and I couldn't be more proud that they have taken this new key role. I salute them and now see a bright and 'powerful' future for the All-American!"
Signage for the All-American Soap Box Derby is already starting to reflect the deal with FirstEnergy.
Mazur would not reveal the amount of money involved in the deal with FirstEnergy, but did say it's a step in the right direction.
"What we have here is a strong staff, a strong board and a strong network of volunteers. All of that together with Corbin's assistance over the last couple of years has really allowed us to get out in the spotlight and to say the Derby is not going away. It's here to stay. I think when people hear that and they see the growth, they then say, 'It's time to get on board.'"
Each year the Derby attracts more than 500 youngsters ages 7 to 17 who race down a 1,000-foot track in gravity-powered cars made from kits.
The last time the Derby had a title sponsor was back in 2007. Mazur said this deal with FirstEnergy had been in the works for about four months.
The Associated Press