Red Bull chose Dallas to host its famous soapbox derby race last Saturday, leaving 67 thousand folks asking Siri where this Austin Ranch place actually is. But they found it, and crowds invaded the suburb to see forty teams compete in two categories: crowd favorite and fastest time.
Some were made by friends who wanted to tackle a project together. Others were packs of coworkers or school chums. All shared a passion for innovative building and a complete disregard for personal safety, so these teams became our heroes. We chatted with them, photographed them and cheered them through victory and complete annihilation. When the final cart skidded through the balloon-arched finish line, we wiped away nostalgic tears, then hunkered down and tallied our scores. We had photographer Mike Mezeul II on hand to gather all of these action shots, so now here's our 16 absolute favorites.
#16 Ku De Ta Ku De Ta (the secretish saltwater pool behind Three Sheets) recreated a small version of their flagship war vessel, which was parked behind them for comparison purposes. Posing in front of the racer were Ku De Ta's beautiful workforce, donning very skimpy military outfits. Next to them stood the cart's builder and driver, a fella dressed like a general. He assured us that the Ross Avenue party spot is on "a mission to overthrow Uptown." Weight: 180 pounds. Composed of: Steel and recycled parts, like freezer panels. Strength: Toughness. It will not be destroyed. Weakness: A high center of gravity
#15 Kappa Alpha's Oregon Trail This team of frat bros wound up clocking in the day's fastest speed and snatched up the racing award. (No word on whether or not this vessel could also ford a river.) Even before they launched their ride, these guys sniffed out victory: They tested the cart's handling power by tying the wagon to the back of a pick-up and whipping it around. She got up to 35 mph with no problems. Weighs: 134 pounds Composed of: Tube steel, wood siding, a canvas top and toy horses. Strength: Fast and stable at high speeds. Weakness: The flooring is just a thin sheet of plywood.
#14 Guy On A Buffalo The idea, like all great things, came from You Tube. This dude crew was hanging out, watching these crazy Possum Party videos when they saw a commercial for the Soapbox Derby. The planets aligned. A team was formed. A man rode a buffalo. Composed of: Chicken wire and paper mache on a go-kart frame. Strength: It's a guy on a buffalo. Weakness: High center of gravity.
#13 The Black Sheep This Denton team was a wild card pick; they never thought they'd make it this far. But look at that sweet design -- the judges sure did, and it wound up securing them a spot in the race. Modeled after the Black Sheep Squadron this sucker grabbed its biggest cool points catching air on the ramps. The group of friends even learned how to weld, just so they could bring their idea to life. Weight: 162 Composed of: Steel, wool, aluminum and vinyl. Strength: It's solid, with a good frame. Weakness: It has no shocks and is front-heavy.
#12 Fighting Jayhawks, KU ROTC This racer started out as a joint project with the KU engineering department, but there was a... falling out. The ROTC kids shrugged it off and decided to build the thing themselves. Looking at the aftermath, maybe they could have used that engineering help after all. Still, these boys drove nine hours to compete and spent a couple of "intense" weeks of labor building the thing, so we admire their chutzpa. Weight: One pound under the maximum. Composed of: 2X6s, wood and steel. Strength: Its weight improves speed. Weakness: We'll let driver Andrew Martin tell you this part. "I have no floorboard or seat. I'm actually sitting on a 2X6 piece of wood with no harness. As long as I stay in the car, it should be good." (He didn't.)
#11 Dallas Derby Devils This vehicle weighed in as the heaviest ride of the day, by a lot too. This giant roller skate was so over the allotted limit that judges tacked an on a 20 second penalty. But honestly, these ladies didn't give a spit. They built their racer because it was fun to do and to spread the good word of roller derby. Driver PK was a little concerned that this race might be her last. She gave us this request, "If I die on this race, could you please print that my last words were 'I'm gonna die'?" She didn't. In fact, it looks like she had a helluva time. Weight: Driver and car combine at 500 pounds of "fuck you" running down the track. Strength: Speed. Weakness: Steering. When the wheels turn too far in either direction, they simply REVERSE and go the opposite way. I saw it and it was terrifying.
#10 Rotor Wash, Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers These guys were just the best. In town from their stationed base to rep a great cause, they were a later add-in to the event. It didn't leave much time to build this rockin' eleven-foot long helicopter craft with matching propeller helmets. They weighed in at 218, which was over the limit. Red Bull had to give them a four second penalty, but felt terrible about it. The racers just laughed and said, "We're actively serving military men. This is the best way we could possibly spend an afternoon. Four seconds is just fine." Weight: 218 pounds. Composed of: Wood, PVC pipe and aluminum. Strength: Speed. Weakness: The bottom is just made of paper and the front is easily crushable.
#9 The Rose Room Drag Racers I was rooting for these guys and a Pride Weekend victory, but it wasn't in the cards on Saturday. This was, however, the only team to balance the job duties, using two men driving with one woman pushing. You might be looking at that shoe thinking, that looks rather parade-y. You're quite right. The same fella who designs the Rose Room's parade floats also made this derby car, but we quickly learned that race cars and floats are very different animals. This shoe broke a heel. Weight: 140 pounds. Composed of: Aluminum, paper mache and reflective paper. Strength: It's light, solid and built for speed. Weakness: There are no shocks and it has a high center of gravity.
#8 Team America For the uninitiated, each team does a skit before launching down the track. This team's was great. Abe Lincoln sat at a desk, got a call on a red telephone and hit a giant red panic button. Then, his office was lifted to reveal the racer: a US-of-A weapon of mass destruction. The boys called it a celebration of "patriotism, glory funtimes and beer." Weight: 185 pounds. Composed of: American steel and fiberglass. Strength: "Hot nasty bad ass speed." Weakness: None, says the team. In fact, "If you're not with us, you're against us."
#7 Alliance Skate Park This was one massive group effort. The whole Grand Prairie skate park community came together to build this deck, under the guidance of two friends who do professional metal work. At one point, they thought they couldn't pull it off: the shop was robbed. All of their aluminum was stolen. But that's the thing about skate boarders: they're scrappy and resilient. Not only did they make it work, but their racer had mad swagger. Weight: 175 pounds. Composed of: Aluminum, a steel steering system, and yes, that tennis shoe is made out of real suede. Strength: It's strong and cool looking. Weakness: The way they mounted the front suspension. If the bolts strip, they're done.
#6 Cool Runnings With Lucky Egg You had me at John Candy and matching Lycra suits. This group of pals and lover of obscure films from 1993 have been building this thing since March. They've worked tirelessly (one weekend on, then two off) over that time to craft this aerodynamic sensation. And if you're wondering where they got their outfits, it was easy. "Ebay," explained the bobsled's driver. "For twenty bucks, you too could look like this." Weight: Unknown, but does come with a lucky egg. Composed of: skill frame, fiberglass and lots of Bondo. Strength: Speed and nostalgia. Weakness: Egg drag.
#5 The Red Dragon This team of friends participated in another Red Bull derby a few years back, so when they found out that Dallas was a selected city, they submitted their design from their Kansas digs. Their last racer resembled a cut wheat combine, which ended in "a sweet crash." This time, they've decided to go Old School with their approach. Weight: Only 91 pounds. Composed of: Aluminum frame and foam insulation. Strengths: It's the fastest car in the valley, and the driver, Frank, took the restrictor plate off to give it a little more juice. Weakness: It's not exactly "street legal."
#4 Team Ram Rod Another team of racing veterans, this posse competed in the LA race with a huge Yoshi. It crashed halfway through. Friends since high school, they've all wound up at separate colleges and saw this as a way to get together for one last ride. Weight: 155 pounds. Composed of: Plywood, steel tubing and movie quotes. Strengths: Designed to fly over the ramps. Weakness: Ground clearance. But it's cool, they have a pillow as a seat.
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#3 The Users -- Tron Possibly the most ambitious design in the entire event, this badass Tron racer is actually two BMX frames joined together. There's really nothing in the center to provide added support, so this thing is a deathtrap. It broke apart after the Widow Maker ramp, but it looked awesome doing it. Weight: Just below the limit. Composed of: Bike frames, plywood, chicken wire and two steel cross-beams. Strength: Otherworld abilities. Weakness: The steering system is linked.
#2 Blues Brothers This crew of friends brought in a little frame help from Whiteside Customs to make their rock and blues dreams come true. I loved the speaker/siren as a head space. Weight: Unknown. Composed of: Wood and a foam frame. Strength: Good wheels and weight for the jumps. Also: white socks. Weakness: The cops are after them.
#1 Mutt Cutts These guys are Red Bull sales distributors in Mansfield, so when they heard about the race they knew they had to give it their all. They picked the greatest vehicle ever: The Mutts Cutts van from Dumb and Dumber. Not only were these guys insanely nice, they had fans. We saw folks reppin' Mutts Cutts t-shirts everywhere. Their execution was perfect too. (They even made the most annoying sound in the world.) They wound up winning the crowd favorite award, and we couldn't agree more. Weight: Unknown. Composed of: Metal, PVC piping and lots of carpet from Craigslist. Strength: They are the only racer with a tail. Weakness: Not terribly aerodynamic and lots of wind resistance.
Want more great racing photos? See the rest of Mike's derby day pics in this slideshow.