Idiotarod Dallas 2011: Behind The Scenes Of The Secretive Race

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Today, just after the 1 p.m. launch of Idiotarod Dallas 2011, bands of costumed "idiots" will mush their modified and decorated shopping carts across roughly 5 miles of the city's streets as they compete for prizes in the first Dallas version of the race.

Clearly inspired by Alaska's annual 1,150-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, an Idiotarod is an urban shopping cart contest that keeps the mushers and replaces the huskies with four idiots teammates who are strapped to a themed grocery cart and driven through city streets. The New York Post video above provides a great introduction to what we can expect in some Dallas neighborhood today.

The organizers and judges say that cunning and sabotage are just as important as costume and presentation when it comes to racking up points for a win. In fact, as the Idiotarod Dallas Facebook page explains: "Sabotage such as tripping competitors, throwing marbles or large obstacles in their paths, and the spreading of misinformation such as false route information are common. Bonus points for bribing the panel of judges." Check out this sabotage-related Idiotarod clip.

According to this SF Weekly story, participants ran in the first Urban Idiotarod in San Francisco in 1994. Since then similar wacky races have popped up in Austin, Boston, Chicago, New York City, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Washington, D.C.--to name a few. And, as those cities can attest, the spectacle of these events grows each year.

Based on the number of team confirmations on Facebook in the days leading up to today's Idiotarod, Jason Talkington, the event's Grand Poobah and chief instigator, said, "I'm guessing that we could have between 60 and 150 people show up to run."

Expect a wrap-up on The Mixmaster and a slideshow Monday, but keep reading after the jump for more Idiotarod history and behind-the-scenes details of Idiotarod Dallas 2011.

On Thursday night, the folks behind Idiotarod Dallas 2011 gathered together at a Dallas residence to nail down the stops along the route of the 5-mile cart race.

"We're not trying to stop traffic or cause a disturbance," Talkington said on Thursday, not long after discussing a very Frogger-like game.

The general area was chosen months ago, and the route was firmed up using Google maps and the organizers' own knowledge of the area's attractions and, well, watering holes.

"What about [bar name we're not allowed to reveal]? What time do they open?" Talkington asked.

Each team will stop at checkpoints along the way to complete in challenges - many checkpoints also allow for "watering" one's team (and folks, the organizers recommend carrying cash to minimize the time spent closing those bar tabs). While the event has a lot in common with a typical organized pub crawl, there's more to it than that say organizers, because it is after all a race.

The planned course runs through a few well-known areas of Dallas, but the location of the starting point remained undisclosed to the participants until less than 24 hours before the event. To find the location check on their Facebook page or on Twitter by searching #IdiotarodDallas2011. The details of the event's route, checkpoints, stops and finish line are still top-secret. Those details will only be revealed in a piecemeal fashion as each team progresses.

Good street smarts will count. The route is roughly 5 miles if charted on a smart phone, but depending on which turns and side streets folks take the route could run as short as 4 or as long as 7 miles. "It all depends on your knowledge of area streets," explains planner and judge Angi Bee-Lovely.

Talkington and many of the organizers and judges of Idiotarod Dallas 2011 ran in last year's Idiotarod in Austin. As in other Idiotarods, the event's judges will award points for creativity in carts, costumes, contests and overall performance, as well as for bribery, sabotage and general mischief. In the past, teams have utilized zip ties, bike locks and other means to immobilize competitors.

The organizers will announce the rules before the race begins at 1 p.m. For an idea, here's a set from the Brooklyn event. Although, it's worth noting that Dallas' event actually has The Richard Simmons Award for Best Use of Spandex. Other awards include The Joey Greco Award for cheating.

"They're really arbitrary rules, but they're very important," Talkington explains, laughing before adding: "I mean, like lying, bribery, random destruction, or decoration of the carts are as important as a good theme."

To those reading this before noon, there's still time to enter the race. In other cities, many participants don't hear of the event or find a shopping cart until just before the event.

Other than the possibility of police interference, the only thing that may dampen today's event are lack of teams. Several posters on the event's Facebook page had teams that dissolved or folks who were looking for teams to join.

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