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Engineers Bringing Soap Box Racing Back Again 83

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the not-quite-x-games-but-still-fun dept.
kpw10 writes "It appears that soap box racing has made a recent comeback as traditional races are getting big attention again. But at the same it is also adapting itself into a more modern engineering challenge: pro car designers from companies like Audi and BMW just last week raced in California's Extreme Gravity Series, with super aerodynamic racers reaching speeds of 44mph. Meanwhile on the east coast, industrial designers and artists competed in the Durham "Fall Classic Soap Box Invitational" with converted lazy boy recliners and enormous eight foot wheeled vehicles. I hope this is just a sign of what's to come!" We have come a long way since the 1930's.
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Engineers Bringing Soap Box Racing Back Again

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  • by SRMoore (87075) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @12:24AM (#13961054)
    I don't really have a link to anything, but CMU has been having it's "buggy" race for several decades.
  • by CyricZ (887944) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @12:28AM (#13961065)
    Indeed, this sort of racing can be very dangerous. Perhaps that's why it is such a thrill for participants and the racers.

    I recall watching one of these races sometime in the 1940s. Even using relatively primitive technology, some the participants were able to build cars that were quite fast. Unfortunately, I also witnessed a rather gruesome accident.

    As anyone who has seen one of the races knows, the participants start at the top of a hill and race downwards. Now, along the track hill there were a number of trees. This poor fellow got going very fast, but somehow lost control about 3/4 of the way down the hill. His car veered towards a tree, and he wasn't able to get out in time.

    Indeed, he hit the tree, and his car was demolished. Unfortunately for him, the tree went right between his legs, and violently damaged his genitals. The races were quickly cancelled, and the paramedics arrived.

    While I didn't actually see him after his accident, I talked to some of the men who had helped him out. They were completely thrown aback by the injuries he had sustained to his manhood. One of them even threw up he was so disgusted by what he had seen.

    I hope that these days they're taking more care to make the vehicles safe, or at least race them in safer areas.

    • I think I can speak for all of slashdot when I say:

      OUCH!!
    • "I recall watching one of these races sometime in the 1940s. Even using relatively primitive technology, some the participants were able to build cars that were quite fast. Unfortunately, I also witnessed a rather gruesome accident."

      If you don't mind me asking, how old are you? I promise, I'm not setting up a joke or anything like that. But if you're 70/80 years old, I'm really curious what you think of how times have changed in the last few decades.
    • 1940s? Grampaw? That you??? Damn, I thought that at 45 I am rather old for this group...
      • I'm a bit younger than 45, but for me, after thinking of CMU, the next thing was "The Little Rascals" I got to watch the reruns when I was little (in the '70s). Their soap box racer, for those who did not see it, featured a dog on a tread mill chasing a cat... I might not remember correctly, but I would not put it past them to have had a turbo mode where the showed the cat a mouse and had a dog chasing a cat chasing a mouse for their engine...

        As Edith would have said, "Those were the days"
    • Modded Funny??? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Zevon 2000 (593515) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @01:35AM (#13961266)
      Granted, "Informative" isn't quite right, and "Interesting" doesn't come close. Maybe "Insightful"? But speaking as a male with genitalia, this comment, while worthy, is certainly *NOT* funny.

      I mean, I know here at /. we don't all get the opportunity to actually use the genitalia as intended as often as we might like, but that doesn't make it funny!

    • I'm late. but I run the website for the UMO/MMA coaster car [rogertheshrubber.net]. We design these cars to crash. They often hit things. Very often they spin out (many cars have the driver sitting on the rear axle with no weight on the front tyres). Our car is perfectly safe with a great roll cage, 4 point harness, the frame has multiple redundant load paths, and the bumper is designed to collapse nicely and dissipate the energy. I only wish they had provisions for keeping the crowd a little safer.
  • Not last week... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Quarters (18322) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @12:37AM (#13961100)
    "...just last week raced in California's Extreme Gravity Series..."

    The Extreme Gravity series happened the first week in September. Check the date on the byline of the linked article.

    • The Extreme Gravity series happened the first week in September.

      Expecting Slashdot editors to clear out the submission queue within a week is like expecting Slashdot editors to edit. They're more like the TV weather goons, regurgitating with insincere authority what they're fed by the Nation Weather Service and still managing to get it wrong 90% of the time.

      But if one of you could put in a word for me, I'd love to be a Slashdot Editor. Slashdot Editing opens doors! I mean, I was a bit on edge ju


    • Hmmm. Extreme gravity. I'm thinking that if this can be created on earth, why can't we go in the opposite direction?

      Wouldn't that be EXTREME and RADICAL?

  • 54mph is extreme? (Score:2, Redundant)

    by corngrower (738661)
    Hah, I know of a few hills where they probabaly could hit 80.
    • They should have picked a nice, long highway down from one of the ski resorts.

      Highway 330 in Redlands would have been high on my list - 15 miles, 6-8 degrees, lots of fun turns, lots of straight aways, and most of all, no uphill sections to slow you down.

  • by richg74 (650636) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @12:58AM (#13961167) Homepage
    In the end the fastest gravity racer was the Volvo entry, which hit 54 mph.

    This sounds pretty fast, but road racing cyclists routinely achieve faster downhill speeds. I'm no Lance Armstrong, but I've gone down steep hills at 55-60 mph.

    The difference is that a two-wheeled vehicle can negotiate turns at higher speeds than a four-wheeled one, because the two-wheeled vehicle turns by leaning. So it doesn't have to deal with anything like the same "sideways" forces at the tire / pavement interface.

    I remember a couple of years ago watching some Tour de France footage with a (non-cycling) friend. It was one of the mountain stages. He asked, "Why do they have support motorcycles and cars?" I said, "Because the cars can't keep up going downhill through the curves."

    • local perf car mag did technical measurements on track of fast m/bike vs fast car and while lap times where within a whisker of each other on this particular circuit it's WHERE they were faster and slower that showed interesting things.

      cut to the chase: car was FASTER IN CORNERS than bike, and bike ACCELERATED faster in straights so they had different advantages in diff places.

      I've driven the circuit the mag used and you could setup a high speed drift in off camber bend with a good car (AWD Turbo GT-R) that you would NEVER contemplate/do on a bike (been riding 25+ yrs).

      So your m/bike faster in "normal" road situation up to a point but cars actually faster and faster capable, in corners.

      cheers!
      • Yes a car definetly has the advantage in the corners. Four wheels vs two gives greater surface area on the road and more traction. Its very easy to overcook the corner on a bike and wind up in the gravel - Ive done it several times myself. On a push bike you may feel like youre flying through a corner, but your real speed probably isn't that high. In contrast to a motorbike where you have a reading of your speed and are travelling at the same speed as the rest of the traffic, you notice a lot more the need
        • cars certainly have far more room between starting to lose grip and completely losing control (and road cycles are completely all or nothing in this aspect) but there's another important difference between bikes and cars:

          bikes can move their center of mass closer to the sides of the roads because they are not as wide as cars, allowing for a wider curve radius in the same corner. this makes a lot more difference on the narrow streets typical for tour de france downhills than on a wide racing track.
      • bicycle drifting [dgtrials.com]. Parent was talking about bicycles, not motorbikes. Despite the fact that you may never contemplate doing such maneuvers on a (motor?)bike, I'm certain the folks who race motorcycles on ice tracks [dieseljo.com] put quite a lot of though into two-wheeled drifting. I myself wouldn't go out drifting on bicycles because a drift gone awry would be "crashing" every time rather than "spinning out" then recovering most times.

      • The bikers love the immediate accelleration available, so there's really no replacement for that rush of stuff between your legs for them.

        I prefer a nice roll cage, but maybe I'm a wimp.
      • That was the best answer yet. Motorcycles have two fairly small, oval-shaped contact patches connecting their tires to the road. As someone else has mentioned, they generate cornering force by camber change, (which requires a round profile).

        Cars have four much larger tires. They, (ideally), stay square to the road and therefore can be made with a tread that is quite wide in relation to the size of the tire. In short more contact area == more force can be applied. (Yes the coefficient of friction and th
        • A lot of the theory on contact patches, various forces etc are also horribly manipulated and influenced by the road surface (bumpy and otherwise) and of course what you find ON it! (sand, oil/diesel - god forbid!)

          The upshot is that in a couple of closed stage road events where I've driven hard charging cars on road tires (Subaru STi, Nissan GT-R) you'd NEVER survive trying that on m/bike!

          The cars can take an absolute pounding, compensate for bumps,dips,holes and with AWD esp go like a scalded cat all becaus
    • I have done 75 MPH on a bicycle, 140 on a motorcycle, and 145 in a car. I think on a closed track a motorcycle may have the advantage in cornering, but with the uneven, bumpy, dirty roads around here if you put a motorcycle into some of the same corners I put my car in at 110 MPH, you would probably live a very short life.
    • Actually, you still have to deal with lateral friction between your tire and the road surface. The difference there is that there is less friction required and that it is applied mostly vertically to the vehicle, whereas a four-wheeled vehicle requires more friction due to increased mass and applies that friction non-vertically - that's why you are thrown to the outside of turns in a car and why cars tend to roll over, while motorcycles push you down into the seat in turns and do not roll up until the poin
      • Actually, you still have to deal with lateral friction between your tire and the road surface. The difference there is that there is less friction required and that it is applied mostly vertically to the vehicle,

        Yes, that's what I was alluding to in talking about "sideways" force. Something else that matters, as someone has mentioned elsewhere in this thread, is that the cyclist can shift the center of mass relative to the contact point with the road.

        • Moving the center of mass doesn't really change the horizontal part. All it does is keep you from flipping over really. If your center of mass is ever outside the outside line of tires in a turn, your vehicle will begin to rotate (flip) greatly. Thus motorcycles must lean in to keep from falling over. Cars have their center of mass between the left and right set of wheels, so the center of mass is never outside the outside wheels.

          So leaning over isn't a positive, it's a compensation for a negative.

          The real
  • by Southpaw018 (793465) * on Sunday November 06, 2005 @01:00AM (#13961172) Journal
    Yeah baby, Derby Downs, right next to the Rubber Bowl. Ahh, the memories of growing up in Akron and reading books about our fair city, the Rubber Capitol of the World.


    ....yeah, I'm glad I live in DC now.
    • I rolled down the hill in 71 and 72 for the local race. It was a blast. I often wondered why we only got to go once a year.
      • Oh, don't get me wrong - that was a half joke. Half. I went to Derby Downs a few times as a kiddo, and I marched on the field of the Rubber Bowl several times as a marching band member in high school. It's just that Ohio's economy is so fantastically, utterly, mind-numblingly desolate right now that my only choice for jobs after college (Penn State alum) was get the hell out of the state.

        I do kinda miss Cedar Point, though. :(
  • Oh, great. (Score:3, Funny)

    by game kid (805301) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @01:20AM (#13961231) Homepage
    First I had to deal with reality shows...now I have to watch running public speakers [wikipedia.org] too.
  • by billstewart (78916) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @02:07AM (#13961347) Journal
    Boingboing [boingboing.net] recently had an article pointing to a Flickr Photo Set [flickr.com] about the Bernal Heights Illegal Soapbox Derby [sfgate.com]. Lots of silly cars, and the one rule is that every car is required to have a beer holder. Usually Halloween, sometimes other weekends as well.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    reaching speeds of 44mph

    From the last paragraph of the article:
    In the end the fastest gravity racer was the Volvo entry, which hit 54 mph.

    Come on, man. We're geeks here. Numbers matter.
  • by hughk (248126) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @08:07AM (#13962202) Journal
    The town of Oberursel [wikipedia.org] in Germany, about 10 miles from Frankfurt was the place where the place where the first Soap Box Derby [oberursel.info] took place in 1904. Baring the odd little incident like WW2, they have been happening there ever since. They could do extreme gravity as the town lies just underneath the Taunus [taunus-info.de] range of hills. Since the big one Grosser Feldberg [frankfurt360.de] is about 2600 feet high with a highway to the top, they could have used that, but luckily common sense prevailed and they used the gentler slope through the town instead. Even cyclists have problems on the big hill due to brake fade and a lovely hairpin.

    As well as the more serious entrants, there have been mobile divans, bath tubs, etc. Unusually for Germany, you don't need to have any special license to do this, just to pass the pre-race safety inspection.

  • Extreme? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lars T. (470328) <Lars.Traeger@goo ... m ['lem' in gap]> on Sunday November 06, 2005 @08:25AM (#13962241) Journal
    Bobby Car racing [funsporting.de] is extreme! Google Trans [google.com]

    Over 60 mph without any aerodynamics.

  • Maybe we'll start seeing them produce cars with an increasingly lower drag coefficient?

    I hope someone can beat the Ford Probe V concept [wikipedia.org] eventually, and actually market it.

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