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Independence Day Week -
Camping, Soap Box Derby, Deerhunter, Fiery Furnaces
Saturday was the second annual Downhill Challenge, a soap box derby at
Starlight Drive In. I'd missed the previous year for some stupid reason, so I
didn't really know what to expect. Degenerate CD and myself arrived as the first
band was playing - most of the bands were decent, but honestly they should've
played before, between and after the races. The bands didn't get the attention they
deserved, and the races needed an announcer to detail some of
the excitement. But the live music was better than the DJ that spun up
awful microphone-strapped-to-an-air-compressor racket. But forget the music, the show was really
about the cars.
|A personal favorite, a PB&J. (If I recall correctly, it was
disqualified in it's first run after losing control, going out of it's
lane, then bursting through a bail of pinestraw back into it's own
|In fact, the more stylistically creative the more dangerous the cars
seemed to be. Only a few of the aesthetically interesting machines
survived the first round of races.
|A near-perfect replica of the Porsche in which James Dean was killed was my
|Others went for a different style.
|Smoky and the Bandit were there, complete with a Trans Am and a
tractor-trailer with a load of Coors.
|Speaking of beer, this one had a functioning keg on board.
|I was doubtful this one would even make it down the hill. The
steering was nothing but one of those Razor scooter things stuck through
the floor. Later I learned it was the previous year's winner.
|Part of a herby-curby nailed to a board attached to a hand truck.
The brakes were just the guy putting his feet down. It was surprisingly
fast and stable.
|Prophetically made from a walker, wheel chair, and crutches. It came
with a crew of girls dressed up as slutty nurses.
|This machine had a pit crew of Georgia Tech students tweaking a mass
of motors and circuitry. Yet the machine was still only powered by
gravity, so I think all the high-tech gear was just to make the barbie
doll on the hood spin around...
|Others were considerably more minimalist in their approach.
|Some did not even pass the barest of safety inspections. Big Boy here had
some kind of steering malfunction and could not be raced.
|Others seemed to be in it to win it - expensive bearings,
aerodynamics, and actually functioning brakes rather than the
traditional 2x4 mounted to a bolt on the frame that you drag on the
|The 99X crew put this Simpsons-themed thing together. It had to be
pushed down the hill and apparently could not be steered at all.
Eventually the races got under way. Unfortunately the spectators had to be
kept at a distance, as the carts went out of control often and needed a lot of
stopping room. For the first round of races I hung back with the masses but my
little digital camera was not up for the job.
|There were some spectacular wrecks, but most folks walked away
unscathed. A few earned a patch of road rash, but even those who
maintained control got out of their cart after each run and stood, arms
raised, soaking in the cheers from the crowd.
|Just surviving the run seemed to be an accomplishment. I suspect a
few of these machines were not tested before they were raced, much
less tested up to the speeds they would achieve on the hill.
|Drive Invasion organizer Vid Sutton as El Cheapo. His cart,
constructed entirely of parts purchased at the Starlight weekend flea
market, wrecked on the first run.
For the second round, I moved up to the pit area next to the hill. It lacked
the social fun of the crowd, but provided ample excitement. The speed some of
these things attained was incredible. Next year someone should bring a radar gun
and post the speeds of each car at the end of the runs!
|The little crate on the right was being driven by a guy who looked
to be about 6'2". He crammed himself into it like a contortionist act.
"I've never seen anyone crawl into a pallet before," said Johnny
As absurd as it looked, the thing flew.
One by one, cars were eliminated, until the final race was decided by
milliseconds - the guy in the crate was barely beat out by the streamlined
machine with the foam board body.
Afterward, another band played and folks got to run their cars at will,
resulting in yet more spectacular wrecks. A few spectators were brave enough,
thanks in part to Atlanta Brewing Company, to get behind
the wheel, sometimes bouncing over the humps of the theater area. Eventually the band
called it quits and we packed up and headed out, brainstorming up ideas for cars
for next year.