These ain’t your daddy’s soap box derby cars, boyo.
Made out of the same materials as F-1 racecars, “extreme gravity cars” scream down steep, curvy road courses at speeds up to 70 mph. These space-age gravity racers are built by the top auto designers and manufacturers in California and England and can cost up to $30,000.
So don’t even say the words soap box or derby to event organizer Don MacAllister. According to him, the only thing the two cars have in common are four wheels, a driver and a complete reliance on gravity for propulsion.
“Soap box cars are six feet by two feet by two feet and they do about 20 mph down a 200-foot straightway,” MacAllister patiently explains. “Gravity cars are nine feet by four feet and they do about 60 to 70 mph down a half-mile hill with curves. It’s a whole different ball game. This is the adult version.”
On Thursday, Aug. 18, these one-of-a-kind racers will bomb down Jacks Peak Park Road in a private, invitation-only exhibition event for media and race-team sponsors.
“The Challenge at Monterey will feature the most beautiful gravity racers in history racing down the most spectacular hill in the world,” MacAllister says. “It’s going to be wild.”
Originally conceived by MacAllister as a team-building exercise for design teams at car corporations, his Extreme Gravity Racing Competition Series also has the added side benefit of creating jobs for foster teens. MacAllister, a foster child himself, has been recognized by the US Congress for his efforts to help foster children integrate into society and the work force. MacAllister founded America Works for Kids, an organization dedicated to helping foster kids become independent working members of their community.
“It came as a result of my own experience being dumped into society at age 18 without proper career guidance and training,” MacAllister says. “I began Extreme Gravity Racing to provide temporary jobs and funding for career training courses for teenagers in foster care.”
As a result, MacAllister’s foster teen interns will get hands-on experience working with nine world-class car design teams, including General Motors, Bentley, Pininfarina, Volvo, Nissan, Mazda, Volkswagen, Audi and Oakley (a non-automotive design team that makes designer sunglasses and accessories) at this year’s event.
“I never thought I’d get nine car companies to agree on anything this unusual,” MacAllister says. “The event is first and foremost a team builder. It’s a challenge that helps these car design companies rally together and problem solve.”
Since the vehicles don’t have engines, top times are dictated by quality of design, driver skill and such minute details as bearings and tire pressure.
“Weight is a big advantage,” MacAllister says. “The car and driver can’t exceed 320 pounds, so all the teams are trying to get as close to that as possible.”
And yes, it’s dangerous. Driving down Jacks Peak Park Road at 60 mph is a sketchy enough prospect in a car, let alone a nine-foot carbon composite coffin. As a result, design rules dictate stringent safety features including helmets, safety harnesses and/or belts, engineered rollover protection, mandatory braking and steering tests, and adequate measures taken to prevent wheel interlock during side-by-side racing. Despite this latter precaution, the gravity cars do not race together. The competition is a series of individual time trials.
Yet, these vehicles are almost as much fun to look at stationary as they are plummeting down a track. Over the last four years, the racers have evolved with an increasing emphasis on design elements that include chrome accents, elegant, artistic paintwork and luxury-car showroom finishes.
In 2003, touched by MacAllister’s vision and the creative energy of the corporate gravity race teams, Porsche and Mazda designers introduced sleek evolutionary designs, coupled with modern material construction and high-tech engineered components. These works of art created a palpable buzz and pushed the envelope in gravity car design.
According to MacAllister, the designers relish the gravity car challenge because when they build one of these cars, it’s an exercise in pure design creativity. There are no consumer clinics or concerns about corporate brand character.
Last year, General Motors Corporation and General Motors Design Staff won the 2004 Gravity Series Competition in Irvine, Calif. with a racer dubbed “The Flying Shoe.” Other memorable entrants included Porsche’s “Soapboard,” a sleek racer inspired by the surf culture of Southern California, and Bentley’s “Crewes Missile,” a black bomber inspired by a real car—the number 7 Bentley EXP Speed 8, which won the Le Mans 24-hour race in 2003.
Although this year’s race technically isn’t open to the public, there is limited space along the course for spectators. Regardless, MacAllister hopes to make next year’s race a major community event.
“We’re looking for a new, more crowd-friendly venue,” he says. “Next year local corporations will be able to sponsor a car in the race and do a team-building exercise themselves.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT EXTREME GRAVITY CARS, CALL 655-2098 or visit www.gravityseries.com.