Race invites whimsy into competition

Photo by Tyler Meuter

This past Saturday, Oct. 24, a large portion of North Avenue was blocked for what might have looked to unsuspecting bystanders like a wild downhill derby. Outside the Ponce City Market, several homemade soap box vehicles raced down the stretch between Boulevard NE and Dancing Goats Coffee. About every three years, the Red Bull Soap Box race is held in Atlanta, though this is the first time it has been by the Ponce Market.

This racing event is but one of the many action sporting activities that Red Bull hosts or sponsors during the year. Other events include activities such as surfing, hang-gliding, motor-sports and even rock climbing.

In order for a team to be qualified to enter the race, they will need a vessel that appears to have been crafted well enough to make it to the bottom of the slope. Any sort of propulsion mechanism, such as pedals, are prohibited as the racers are intended to just roll down the hill as fast as possible. The track also has a small ramp to test how stable the vehicles will be upon impact.

Though the immediate, stated goal of the race is to reach the finish line the quickest, most of the judges rated the teams based on other criteria. For many teams, a major component of their score was the skit that they performed before beginning their descent.

Each team usually acted out a type of cinematic short based around their vehicle’s theme. For example, the members of the Ghostbusters group gave a performance involving the Stay Puft marshmallow, an important character from the movie, and then went on a “ghost chase” down the hill after him. Other teams, such as the Atlanta Beer Festival team, seemed to be revered simply because of their boldness after riding a collection of beer kegs mounted on a steel-framed wheeled vehicle down the track.

There were also two participating groups which represented Tech at the race. The first group consisted of Tech alumni who built a miniature soap box replica of the Ramblin’ Wreck. After launching off of the ramp, one of the front wheels of their vehicle was severely warped due to the landing impact and their race performance was dramatically crippled. Some of the judges and members of the crowd teased them about the stability of the vehicle since the builders were graduates of Tech.

The Hinmen Heads, a group of architecture grad students here at Tech, built a stable car with a very minimalistic cardboard hull. Before their departure through the gate, they presented a video that gave a glimpse of their construction process. The team captain, Kara Thomas, mentioned laser cutting their cardboard components. They clearly invested a significant amount of time in perfecting the efficiency and structure of their vehicle. However, the judges only gave them moderate scores because they did not place as much emphasis on their overall team theme.

The judges certainly seemed to value the wreckage that accrued during the descent as well as the creativity exhibited during all of the many performances more than anything else.

Second place was awarded to Yongsa Dragon’s Breath, a team which consisted of members from one of the local martial arts studios. SNAFU, a die hard group of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans, decided to outfit their car as a “T-Machine” and with this won third place.

The winning team, the Grease Monkeys, seemed to exceed all of the judges’ expectations. They started their skit with “Brass Monkey” by the Beastie Boys while dancing in monkey costumes with a massive banana and enlarged power tools. Immediately before launching their car from the start, they began waxing the car and playing “Grease Lightning.” The cart had a driver in the front, and another monkey barely hanging on in the rear. Many of the judges agreed that their entire act engaged the audience.

Though the Red Bull Soap Box race will, in all probability, not be returning to Atlanta for another three years, it is worth keeping an eye out for some of Red Bull’s other events in the meantime. For those who could see themselves entering the race in the future, know that a crowd-pleasing theme is probably one that will accumulate the most points.