“Does this seem steep?” I pondered out loud, while walking up the mammoth hill that is Yesler Way in Seattle. Indeed, it was the steepest course in event history. This was our first time experiencing the Red Bull Soapbox races and we excitingly headed over to “pit lane” to see the vehicles. Nothing could prepare us for the scene that unfolded before our eyes. Gorillas playing guitars with a giant banana, a bearded man in a blonde wig wearing Daisy Duke shorts, and a man covered from head to toe in a tight, neon green body leotard.
The teams were vying for the popularity vote and played to the crowd. I turned around and my friend was taking a selfie with one of the Dukes of Hazard’s cops and then was being arrested. We especially enjoyed the Washington themed cars with Sasquatch, a simian (ape-like animal) driving a Starbuck’s coffee cup, and Bertha’s Last Stand.
Bertha is the world’s biggest tunnel-boring drill, about five stories or 57.5 feet across, and costing $80 million. In December 2013, she hit a pipe and broke down. She is currently stuck underground in Seattle and projected to be fixed and working by March 2015. One thing is for certain, the Soapbox Bertha will be moving much faster!
We gave up on finding a good spot to take pictures among the 46,000 other spectators. I surrendered to the idea that I’d be holding my camera up in the air, over people’s heads, and aimlessly taking pictures of speeding objects zooming past me. We started more towards the top of the course, which is a good idea, because if the car crashes, it’s carted away, not making it to the bottom.
We wandered a bit further down and discovered a house-sized TV screen. Alas, we can watch and cheer throughout the car’s entire journey down the course. The teams are judged on three criteria: speed, creativity and showmanship. They start by turning up the music, performing an often times cheesy skit, jumping into their cars, and team members pushing them down the hill.
We witnessed a pink bunny slipper, a flying taco, a banana riding a gorilla, a runaway bride with her oversized wedding cake and many other spectacles. I’d dare to say, if you asked, numerous people would describe their most memorable moment as when the orca nearly became a beached whale.
The orca car neared the end of the course and challenged the sharp left turn berm (an angled ramp) on the way to the finish line. The car caught some air, audible gasps were heard from the spectators, as it appeared the car was going to flip over. The orca car recovered, landing squarely on its wheels, and rolled over the finish line. The crowd erupted into cheers and the judges awarded high marks of 10’s.
The winning car was the Nickerson Street Saloon Rainier Rocket team, shaped like a bottle of Rainier Beer. Their win moves them onto the Red Bull Air Race in Las Vegas. And team Runaway Bride from Bothell, Wash., won over the crowd and took the People’s Choice Award.
Reanimating Bertha, a Mechanical Behemoth Slumbering Under Seattle, By Kirk Johnson, Aug. 1, 2014, The New York Times
Who to Blame for Bertha, by Dominic Holden, June 11, 2014, The Stranger