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Soap Box Race Los Angeles

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No one really knows the precise makeup of the stuff that fills those ubiquitous Red Bull energy drink cans, but the compelling mixture seems to make people accomplish extraordinary things.

For instance, on Saturday in Los Angeles, it got the city to shut down a long stretch of Grand Avenue and part of 5th Street for the wacky and spectacular Red Bull Soapbox Race Los Angeles. These events have been held regularly since the inaugural race in Belgium in 2000. Silly contraptions have plummeted down courses in 30 countries, each event sponsored by Red Bull.

Saturday's race featured 40 wheeled concoctions lined up at the top of Grand Avenue's steepest section and launched one by one into the crowd- and hay-bale-lined void. The carts sometimes bounced off the hay bales and sometimes spun out or flopped over trying to negotiate the high banking where the course turned left onto 5th Street at the library. The bigger the wreck, the more the crowd of 111,000 cheered. There were no injuries.

All entries had to be human powered, have seven inches of ground clearance and be less than seven feet tall. Those were the only restrictions. Thus you had a giant nose, a giant brain, a fake fire engine and an accurate Mach 5, the latter complete with a Trixie, Spritle and a Chim-Chim.

We got to speak to the Nose driver. Did people "pick" him to win?

"If they did, it'll be by a nose," driver Travis Abels said, adding, "Did you know the nose never stops growing?" Abels failed to cite a source for that piece of medical dogma.

The day was like the original Soap Box Derby in Akron, except that one of the "cars" was built around a stripper pole and featured a delightful pair from a local gentlemen's club. Just before that car launched, a "government official" claimed the two strippers couldn't go and commandeered the ride, ripping off his sweat suit, exposing his flabby body and grabbing the pole himself for the ride. The team name was "Pole Position."

Other outstanding entries included a life-guard tower titled "Babe Watch, Tower 69," an oversized bottle of Tapatio hot sauce and a highly accurate rendering of Max's boat from Where the Wild Things Are. We asked the Wild Things entry if they'd gotten sponsorship from the upcoming movie.

"No, we just like the book," said a small woman dressed as a monster.

It was just another day in L.A.

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