The Red Bull Soapbox Race Is The Goofiest Fun I’ve Had All Year
Photography by Alex Sobran and Chris Gonzalez
Removing themselves from a mangle of hay and cardboard in front of me are two crimson-skinned men wearing leather jackets and armfuls of tattoos. A few minutes later and that same space is occupied by two anthropomorphic birds wriggling out of a massive deformed egg shell sheathed over two bicycles someone’s welded together. I am running on three hours of sleep and 300mg of caffeine, and smiling like a happy doofus despite it. A few days later and I am struggling to recall a more fun Sunday than the one I recently spent at the Red Bull Soapbox Race in Los Angeles.
It turns out more than a just a few others knew this was going to be a good day, as our arrival in the parking lot of the adjacent baseball stadium (Dodger Stadium, home of the Dodgers and Brian O’Conner’s humble beginnings in a certain green Eclipse), prompted us to assume “There must be a game today, too.” Nope. 55,000 people were congregated for the sole purpose of watching homemade soapbox creations slide, jump, apex, and most of all, understeer into hay bales.
A crowd of that size is bound to be diverse I think, and this was certainly the case here. At least it seemed that way to me empirically, given the double-wide baby stroller sharing space with a group of men who looked like they were going to a death metal concert after this wrapped up. I think it’s safe to say the demographic spread was pretty vast, and they were all linked here today with cans of Red Bull in hand and eyes scanning up the track in anticipation of the next mobile wrestling ring/winged shoe/boom box/bottle of Sriracha to pass by and invigorate their childlike glee. It’s interesting to watch the crafts tackle the course, but I also found a lot of enjoyment in seeing the wave of smiles that tracked their progress. You can’t help but be swept up in the unalloyed joy of everyone around you.
Typically, vehicles and energy drinks come together in one of two ways; either someone who’s extra-awake following their fourth can of the day thinks they’re Ken Block and attempts something sketchy with their handbrake, or else it’s the common scenario of adding caffeine to the commute. This event was neither. This was gung-ho creativity, and not only in the construction and design of the Soapbox crafts; each team was fully-costumed for instance, and before their run they’d perform choreographed skits to be judged by a panel overlooking the starting ramp. I’m not sure what the credentials of the judges were, but the sign above them said “Judges” so I guess at least some of them had some criteria to apply. What I do know is that even the strangest of these performances were good fun to watch on the jumbotron; seeing other people’s enthusiasm is a pretty effective means of finding some in yourself.
That’s why, hours after the race and with hands still shaking from too many gratis Red Bulls, I was working through my Nth idea for a soapbox racer for the next time this event comes to town. Perhaps a mini ‘60s F1-type monoposto, or, on the other end of the spectrum, maybe a plywood taco truck with a bunch of weight in the nose riding on go-kart wheels. I wouldn’t mind if the hours of hypothetical labor that went into whatever likely abomination I’d come up with resulted in the whole thing falling apart on the starting ramp, because as the guy with the plexi-dome over his head below is demonstrating, crashing can only add to the glee of doing something completely and unabashedly for fun. If you don’t like spending time with people who take themselves too seriously, you’re likely to love spending some here.