Despite turning a wizened 11 years old this year, Portland's Annual Adult Soapbox Derby maintains three priorities: fast cars, thrills, and alcohol. Sound dangerous? Damn right! And is it fun? Double damn right!
With a lawsuit still outstanding after some serious injuries last year, organizers (Mercury Promotions Director) Zach Hull and Patrick Leyshock are taking no chances this time around—setting up a limited liability company to shoulder the legal burden if things once again get hairy.
"Last year, a guy went off the course. He's lying there by his car, and one of the track marshals told me, 'I'm pretty sure he's dead.' He wasn't—but if we get sued for $2 million this year because a car cuts off a small child's head, then ideally, I don't want to lose my motorcycle," says Hull, a biker with his life's priorities clearly in order.
"This year, we're asking the drivers to stay sober, and we've scrapped the post-race gauntlet where all the cars go down together," he says. "That's when most of the accidents happened in the past. But everyone else can still drink, and apart from that, I don't want to be a cop—the derby is still about the same stuff..."
That "stuff" being a wild, crazy, and very drunken time for (almost) everyone—no matter how many children get decapitated! It may be more legitimate these days, and may even be approaching the status of a Portland Institution™, but in its time the derby has gone from a small group of maniacs racing down twisty Mount Tabor at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, to a huge group of maniacs racing down twisty Mount Tabor, at even greater speeds.
This year, 42 cars will be racing in the derby's two loose categories—"Art," for the creative types who like to go slowly but look good doing it, and "Science," for the speed-nutters, who spend months on blueprints alone for their aerodynamic zoomers.
The day will round out, as it did last year, with even more beers at an awards ceremony after-party at Sabala's (4811 SE Hawthorne). So get up to Mt. Tabor and enjoy! Just remember to bring your own wine or beer—the city gives the event a "picnic permit" so you can drink all you can legally withstand—and for God's sake, remember: Don't stand (or pass out) on the track.
While drivers compete primarily for bragging rights, first, second, and third "prizes" are awarded for speed, and trophies are also awarded for best art car, best engineering, best costume, best crowd pleaser—and even one for best lame duck. "Usually it's a first-timer car, put together with toothpicks, which falls apart on the second run," says Hull.
But enough of the buildup: Here are three of this year's coolest entrants, typifying the Portland spirit of the 2006 Adult Soapbox Derby—that's right, completely ba-zonkers! And proud of it!
PC LOAD BUFFER is the art car of former derby organizer Zac Christensen, who decided to switch over from racing science cars after "breaking [his] face last year." Christensen and seven teammates, one of whom is a real-life venture capitalist, are racing a six-foot by seven-foot office cubicle, complete with water faucet, filing cabinets, and even idle members of "middle management," drawing inspiration from the cult classic, Office Space. "We're not trying to win, but we'll take care of your business needs from the backend," says Christensen, whose corporate team logo is a square peg being hammered into a round hole.
Returning to the theme of killing children, KIDDY POOL OF DEAFpreviously entered as Kiddy Pool of Death for the last two derbies—last year attaching a giant, 12-foot sprinkler to its aforementioned paddle pond. This year, the sprinkler's gone, but there's a new theme, with engineers Dan Partin and Jami Hudson affixing a drum kit, kiddy piano, and guitar to the wheels via a mechanical drive system, intended to make "as much noise as possible." The kiddy pool remains, of course, in the center of the vehicle, although the pair has been having trouble getting it to finish the course on recent practice runs. But Partin is unconcerned: "Strategy," he says of his team's approach. "That's what throws people off."
TEAM DUNG BEETLE have been racing since 2000, when—guess what—they raced a giant dung beetle! But it's long since been scrapped, and lighting designer Drew Flint and partner Mark Falls are racing a five-foot by 12-foot GIANT SHARK'S FIN this year. The fin will be complete with sound effects from the movie Jaws, courtesy of a sampler and a car battery, and even engine sounds! "I like the idea of engine noises coming from a shark fin with no motor," Flint says. Thanks to their redesign, Team Dung Beetle is aiming, despite their art-car status, to finish in the top six for speed this year.
"Competition?" Flint scoffs. "We'll eat them alive!"
Mt. Tabor Park, SE Salmon and 60th, Sat Sept 9, 10 am, free, all ages; after-party at Sabala's with bands Pillowfight and Muddy River, 4811 SE Hawthorne, 6 pm, $5, 21+