Do you remember the days as a child, rescuing an old perambulator chassis from the local tip? Stripping it down and turning it into what we used to call a buggy, cart, trolley or soapbox. Welcome to the world of gravity cars, although these mean machines are a million miles away from those old soapboxes. In the serious world of gravity car racing you won’t find these carts held together with wood, nails and twine.
The Soapbox Derby:
With children in the US and UK building and riding soapboxes almost from when the wheel was discovered, it didn’t take someone long to start organising competitions. Having covered a children’s race meet in 1933, Myron Scott, a photographer for the local Dayton Daily News, acquired all rights to hold the race meeting, and the seeds of America’s national Soap Box Derby were sown.
Fifty cities across the states agreed to hold local heats, with the winners from each journeying to Dayton for the final. Since those early days, children and youth soapbox racing has become a national pastime across America, and to a lesser extent, it is gaining popularity in the UK.
The Need for Speed:
Soapbox events continued to be primarily for the younger generation, involving meets which were for racing ‘anything on wheels,’ to soapbox racing-cars which were becoming ever more advanced, and race speeds ever faster.
The older generation was taking a greater interest, college graduates, older brothers and fathers with engineering and design skills, college faculties, and some of the big name motor companies were jumping on the bandwagon. All were trying to design and produce the fastest gravity car racer over a downhill measured distance.
A move Away from Soapbox Cars:
With big corporate names involved in the design, engineering, and funding of these high tech gravity race cars, it is strangely, a sport which seems to have remained somewhat fragmented.
In 1990 Gravity Formula 1 was born, with race cars mimicking Formula 1 machines, without the engine. This series continued until 2006 and the cars, if you can find one, still fetch very high prices. Although not designed purely for speed, one of these cars, bought in 2014, was unofficially timed at 88 mph. And this has been the problem with gravity race cars.
Although there have been many reports of cars reaching speeds of 80+ mph, until 2014 the majority had been unofficial timings. It wasn’t until the 2014 Ultimate Gravity Speed Challenge when timings were declared official, with half a dozen cars pushing the 80 mph envelope.
It was in late 2014 that an English driver, Guy Martin, gained the first accepted gravity car world speed record, recording 85.6 mph, and ratified by Guinness World Records. Even this though is surrounded by controversy. Martin received a push start from two women with bobsleigh running experience, which some maintain shouldn’t have been allowed.