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Kinetic Sculpture Races

Need an excuse to let your hair down and live imaginatively? Then the Kinetic Sculpture Races are for you. These are organized races of human-powered, handmade, one-of-a-kind amphibious “vehicles” custom built for each event. More than pretty faces, they must negotiate a multi-texture course that ends in a body of water.

The 1% dips into Chesapeake Bay

‘The 1%’ dips into Chesapeake Bay.

The original kinetics race began in Ferndale, California, in 1969. The annual World Grand Championship spans 42 miles in three days over Memorial Day Weekend in Humboldt County, California.

Baltimore, home of the largest race on the East Coast, held its fourteenth race on May 5. Thirty-four mobile sculptures from 28 teams had eight hours to cover 15 miles, mostly on pavement but also through mud and sand before navigating a dip into the Chesapeake Bay. Entrants can spend up to a year working on their vehicles, and must plan for possible contingencies along the route that could slow them down.

This race is hosted by the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM), which presented the 2012 Grand Mediocre East Coast Championship award to the newest winner. The trophy consists of a plaque attached to bronzed tricycle handlebars. Winners enjoy it for a year and return it to AVAM before the next race.

One Percent breaking through the tape.

‘The 1%’ breaking through the tape for their mediocre first-place finish.

Humor and sly social commentary are part of any kinetics race. This year’s East Coast champs, from a College Park, Maryland, bicycle shop, built a sculpture resembling a gold Rolls Royce and called it The 1%, a comic look at the widening economic divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots.  Here is their official description of their entry:

“The car was built by NASA, on a secret underground moon unit base, funded by taxpayer dollars, graciously laundered by [a major bank],” the winners said in describing their craft. “It is cast of solid gold… Only wood from endangered rainforests was used for the interior cupholders. Seat cushions are made from Donald Trump hairpieces wrapped in baby seal skins.”

Three judges select the first-place winner, based on secret criteria known only to them. The race goes neither to the swift or to the slothful, however. The winner is one who finishes not first or last but in the middle of the race – hence the Grand Mediocre trophy.

All 1800 pounds of Loose Cannon ambling along the road in Baltimore

All 1800 pounds of ‘Loose Cannon’ ambling along the road in Baltimore.

Loose Cannon in the water, foam noodles covering the metal spokes of the wheels.

‘Loose Cannon’s foam noodles which sheath the spokes ensured the giant metal wheels would float. In addition to bearing the weight of the center platform and pilots, the float platform and aft inflatable bladders provided counter-rotational buoyancy.

The judges also present a People’s Choice Award. This year it went to Loose Cannon for a chariot with towering 11.5-foot-diameter wheels. This team has entered the race every year since 2007.

The winning vehicles are displayed at AVAM throughout the year until the next race.

Other cities that hold kinetic sculpture races include Port Townsend, Washington; Klamath Falls and Corvallis, Oregon, as part of the annual da Vinci Days Festival; Ventura and Clearlake, California, as part of their 4th of July celebration; Prescott Valley, Arizona; Boulder, Colorado (at a reservoir in nearby Longmont); Philadelphia, as part of the Trenton Avenue arts festival in the Kensington neighborhood; and Geraldton, Western Australia.

To see pictures of other East Coast Kinetics teams and learn more about this race, visit the official 2012 Race Report.

Kinetic Sculpture Race spectators

Many spectators dress up for the event, too.