The Broomfield Enterprise
You tend to think of a soapbox racer as a 2-by-4 with rollerskate wheels and a rope to steer. But the competitors in the Red Bull Soapbox Races take it a step or two beyond. To be a soapbox, it must be propelled by gravity, a steering mechanism and brakes, but other than that, most anything is fair game.
A year ago, Broomfield resident Josh McGuckin, a sports photographer, used to carpool with his friend, bike enthusiast and Denver resident Jeremiah Hueske, to mountain biking competitions.
"He'd typically race, and I'd typically take photos of him," McGuckin said. They met Boulder resident Matt Fisher the same way.
Last year they got to talking about entering a homemade flying machine in Red Bull's Flugtag competition, and decided to get their feet wet with the Red Bull's Soapbox Race in Denver before they took a leap off a 30-foot bridge.
"There's a lot of people who just tank into the water," McGuckin said. "Some of them you go, 'I don't know what you were thinking.'"
Now the team of McGuckin, Hueske and driver Fisher are gearing up for Red Bull Soapbox Race Los Angeles on Saturday. (The race is held several times a year at different locations.)
Also on the team is Denver native and now-Lakewood resident James Olson.
"They needed someone to help with fabrication and they thought of me," said Olson, a Web developer who used to work at a bike shop with Hueske. "I'm into rock crawling with jeeps and have a buggy I'd built from scratch."
Something about their respective personalities seemed to feed each other's obsessiveness, and they never did anything halfway.
"We go overboard on things" McGuckin said. Along with Hueske's wife, Sandra, they decided to build a miniature 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" for the Denver race.
For their application to the 2008 race in Denver they made a pop-up blueprint of the proposed car that played the theme to Ferris Bueller when you opened it. They were told as soon as the organizers opened it, they said, "They're in," before they read it.
When contestants are notified they made the cut for the race, they have two months to build their machines.
So Team Save Ferris made a chassis the driver would steer laying face down, then molded a body out of fiberglass, which they'd never worked on before. Once they sanded and painted it, it looked like the real thing.
The day of the race, in homage to the scene where the Cameron's father's beloved Ferrari goes backward through the window, Team Save Ferris turned the body backward so it looked like they were doing the race in reverse.
"People would ask, where did you get that? And we' d say, 'We made it,'" said McGuckin, adding he can think of no higher compliment.
The car was judged based on creativity, showmanship (racers are required to do a skit before they race) and speed. Their vehicle won the creative categories hands down, but finished .6 seconds behind the first-place team.
"They were friends of ours," McGuckin said of winning team Bonneville Record Holders and its '36 Coup.
The teams had done some practice races together, and Team Save Ferris always won. On race day, their competitors had an advantage.
"Their brakes broke" McGuckin said, giving them little choice but to take the final turn at full speed.
In the final tally, Team Save Ferris won both first place and the People's Choice Award, the first team to ever do so.
Not everyone puts as much into their soapbox racers. The team that raced next to Team Save Ferris in Denver built a fiberglass liver the Tuesday before the race, and they had to put a sign on it that said, "This is a liver, not a turd."
Other racers didn't make it down the ramp without collapsing.
The team, now dubbed Team Speed Racer in honor of their new car -- Speed Racer's Mach 5 -- expects some tough competition on the in Los Angeles course, which has two jumps and a berm. They have some surprises planned, but admits it is difficult to outdo last year's "riding in reverse" gimmick.
Last year's car cost around $1,600, and the team expects this year's tab to come in around $2,200. McGuckin said who pays for what is essentially "determined by convenience"
"It's whoever's near whatever we need," he said, but they'll probably divvy up the costs.
Now that they know how to use fiberglass, they have cut the bodywork time from 18 days to three. They've also improved the chassis design with the help of a Mandrel pipe bender. All in all, they're putting in eight hours after work to build their car.
"It's a full time job," McGuckin said.
Their competitive streak has them eyeing another record, too.
"We want to win two years in the row," McGuckin said. "We were told no team has ever done that."