4:49pm

Fri May 27, 2011
The Two-Way

Artists, Start Your Pedals: The Kinetic Grand Championship

Serious race fans are eager for one of the country's most anticipated races of the year, when the Indianapolis 500 starts Sunday. For non-serious race fans, the big event starts Saturday, with the 43rd running of the Kinetic Grand Championship.

Formerly known as the Kinetic Sculpture Race, the contest requires that all vehicles be human-powered. It's also recommended that entries be colorful, fanciful and/or improbable, as this gallery over at CNN shows. Entries are judged in four categories: art, engineering, pageantry, and speed.

Held in California's Humboldt County, the three-stage race covers 42 miles over three days — although some of the contraptions don't stay together long enough to see the finish line. A few also sink each year — the second and third stages include stints in Humboldt Bay. Here's a video shot at the 2009 competition:

The first race was held in 1969, when sculptor (and race founder) Hobart Brown and artist Jack Mays held a race in Ferndale, Calif. Since then, it has inspired off-shoot races in Colorado, Maryland, and even other countries. In that first race, Brown lost — which might help explain why there are now many prizes and ways to "win." Here are some of them:

  • The Mediocre Award, for finishing in the middle.
  • The Golden Dinosaur, for being the first to break down.
  • The Golden Flipper, for the best flip of a sculpture in sand and water.
  • Best Campsite (self-evident).
  • If a racer finishes without being caught either cheating or pushing their vehicle, they win the "ACE" award.

The race's rules are, as you might expect, idiosyncratic. They require all participants to bring a toothbrush; they ban sculptures that are "inherently dangerous to you or anyone else in the world. Projectiles, such as arrows, anchors and grappling hooks fall into this category."

The rules also include a stipulation that sets the Kinetic Grand Championshiop apart from the Indy 500, or indeed any other road race: if someone honks their horn at you, you must move to the right and allow them to pass.

"It's not nice to hog the road," say the rules.

As for the Indy 500, this is a big year for the race: it began 100 years ago. Somehow, that famed contest has made it to 2011 without requiring, above all, that participants "put great effort into having great fun."

For comparison's sake, here's a vintage video of the first Indy 500:

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.