FROSTBURG — Twelve-year old Isaiah Wharton won first place at the 41st Frostburg Elks Derby Day race on Tuesday driving the same car his father used to snag the title nearly two decades earlier.
"I thank the Lord that I got first place," Isaiah Wharton said.
Seth Wharton, 1990 Derby Day champion and Isaiah's father, said the family couldn't believe the win.
"We can't believe he won," Seth Wharton said.
"It's amazing," he said. "We are so thankful."
At least three generations of Wharton's cheered as Isaiah drove "Awesome" – a purple car featuring his dad's ministry decal – down Main Street on the Fourth of July. Benay Wharton, Seth's mom and Isaiah's grandmother, said the day brought back memories.
"When (Seth) won this race in 1990, it was such an encouragement to all of us," Benay Wharton said, "because of all he was going through."
Born with a heart defect, Seth Wharton had two open heart surgeries by age 12. He was set to have his third following his 1990 win.
"(Seth) was going through so many things at that time," she said, "and to win that race was amazing."
Now happily married with four children and head of Seth Wharton Ministries Inc., he defied the odds.
"I never thought I'd see (Seth's) son in the same car years later," Benay Wharton said. "It means so much to Seth and Isaiah."
The annual Derby Day race was founded in 1977 by the Frostburg Elks Lodge as a centennial gift to the community and a way to maintain family values, officials said.
"The idea was to bring back morals that seemed to be slipping away from American life," Dale Iman, exalted ruler of Frostburg Elks Lodge 470, said.
“The founding fathers of this event envisioned fathers and sons working together and building their cars, racing them and going through the trials and tribulations of winning and losing,” Iman said.
Instead of a son, a daughter — an African-American female — won the first Derby Day race, the essence of family is the same.
“The only girl in the race (Deidre Waites) won the race,” he said. “But the concept still remains the same — children working with adults, mentors, mothers, fathers, families — working together to build that family bond needed to be successful.”
Elmer Horduvay, Finzel, helped his grandson Drew, 12, build a soapbox car. Drew won second place in the day's race.
"Look at the smile on (Drew's) face, can you beat that?" said Horduvay. "It's better (kids) doing this than playing on an iPod. They're outside and they're doing something fun."
Drew said it's the "thrill" of racing that keeps him going.
Dozens of local businesses helped sponsor each of the 36 cars represented at Tuesday's race that took place from noon to 7 p.m. Frostburg State University President Ronald Nowaczyk as well as Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine attended the event.
"It's nice to see something that's lasted this long," Valentine said. "It gives kids something to get into and it's nice to see how many businesses in the community support it by sponsoring the cars."
Follow staff writer Heather Wolford on Twitter @heatherbwolford.