Red Bull Soapbox Race Jerusalem 2009 – Click above for high-res image gallery
With electronic this and variable that, there's little doubt that the modern automobile has benefited more than most from the relentless march of progress. And don't get us wrong, we're glad for it. But we're not robots, nor do we want our cars to turn into them. Sometimes we long for simpler times when a man, woman, or child with a enough vision, elbow grease and spare time could build his or her dream car right in the garage.
Fortunately for the nostalgics among us, that simpler place and time is alive and well in the time-honored tradition of the soap box derby. We stopped by to check one out in of the last locations on earth that you'd expect to find one. Follow the jump to see what we found.
Photos copyright ©2009 Amos BenGershom/Weblogs Inc.
A timeless piece of Americana, the soap box derby has roots that make us proud to be automotive journalists. The pastime, according to historians, started in the 1930's when Myron Scott – a photographer for the local paper in Dayton, Ohio – covered a group of boys who'd built their own race cars out of discarded soap crates and roller-skate wheels and raced them down a hill. Scott was so taken with the simplicity of the idea that he turned it into a national competition, bringing 50 more American cities on board the following year and the Soap Box Derby was born. (Incidentally Chevrolet, which sponsored the national championship, later hired Scott, who was credited with having named the Corvette.)
While the basic formula remains the same – the vehicular embodiment of simplicity itself – the soap box derby has come a long way over the past 70-some-odd years. Racers are held around the world, and until recently were even part of the program at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. But few have done as much for soap box racing as Red Bull.
Largely at the initiative of branding guru Dany Bahar – who has since gone on to become a senior vice-president at Ferrari before being named chief executive at Lotus – Red Bull has emerged as not merely a omnipresent sponsor in all sorts of extreme sports, racing series and offbeat events around the world, but has developed itself into a team owner and event promoter.
Along with its famous Flugtag flying machine contest, the Austrian energy drink giant has organized nearly forty of its own brand of soap-box races around the world. The first was held in Brussels in 2000, and have since been staged in such varied locations as Australia, South Africa, Jamaica, Italy, Colombia, Japan and across the United States. But this month the circus came to Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities on earth, a holy citadel for three of its most prominent religions and timeless crossroads of the ancient world.
Nestled in the Judean hills, Jerusalem's mountainous topography makes for an ideal staging ground for a soap-box race. Event organizers plotted a route that started by the foreign ministry, swept down the hill past the justice ministry and curved alongside Sacher Park. Held during the Sukkot festival at the tail end of the Jewish holiday season when many businesses and schools are closed, the Red Bull Soapbox Race Jerusalem 2009 drew masses of spectators who turned out to witness the closest thing to a proper wheeled race the city has seen since Roman chariots roamed the hillsides thousands of years ago.
Unlike the children's competition that served as its inspiration, the Red Bull Soapbox Races attract adult participants who come up with some of the craziest wheeled vehicles ever to see the light of day. Each racer has to be completely original, cannot incorporate any sort of engine or motor whatsoever, may not exceed 6 feet in width and 20 feet in length or weigh more than 176 lbs without the driver. Other than that, the proverbial sky's the limit.
Entries are judged on speed, creativity and showmanship, giving participants all the motivation they needed to dream up, build and race all manner of bizarre contraptions, as you can see for yourself in our high-resolution image gallery. They may not take you down memory lane to the soapbox derby you saw or even competed in as a child, but they undoubtedly serve to demonstrate, arguably better than any studio-crafted design study or manufactured production car, the scope of our own imagination.
Special thanks go out to Amos BenGershom for helping us out with the photos!