The Red Bull Soapbox Race, Los Angeles 2017

The Idea
The last time Red Bull had a soapbox race in Los Angeles it was 2009. I was lucky enough to be a participant in that event as we built an elaborate treasure chest soapbox car and were feisty pirates in our first attempt at the race.

As is the case now, we didn’t win but we found the best part was the participation and weeks of building or designing with friends. The designing, testing, and camaraderie can’t be beat.

Skip ahead 8 years to Los Angeles 2017 and we were accepted into the event yet again! This time some of the first participants like myself, chose to let a new crop of newbie’s participate. So this time, it will be a new batch of participants in another of Staycationer JoJo’s master adventures.

The first step to getting accepted is to come up with an design idea and then draw or sketch it out for the Red Bull application. From there you fill in the information about the design, costumes, skits, etc.  Yes, you have to perform a skit for 30 seconds before the race starts. They want to know all about it including costumes, design, etc. This event isn’t all about racing and attempting to get the best time, it is also about showmanship, creativity, costumes, and construction.

We floated around a few ideas and the Beatles Yellow Submarine seemed to be the favorite, so it was a done deal. The naming of the team was next and of course they wanted a catchy title, so after much deliberation , “ 5 Buds and a Sub” was chosen.

With an allowed team of five, everything would be twisted as the four girls would dress up as the Beatles and the lone guy in the group would dress up as a crazy female fan. The vehicle would be a Yellow Submarine inspired from the 1968 Beatles animated movie of the same name.

The skit would be the Beatles dressed in colorful attire just like the animated movie and acting as if they are coming out for a concert. With guitars and microphones in hand, they would be waving to the crowd until a crazed female fan appears with a blond wig, hippie attire and a ”I love Paul” sign in her hand.

Luckily for us, our guy friend was comfortable in his masculinity to be able let us dress him up in this wild attire. The idea was that we wanted him to look like a man dressed up as a girl because it looked funny. At least to us it did. So we encouraged him to keep is mustache and goatee.

Once he…er…she enters the stage and spots Paul and Paul spots her, a chase ensues until Paul attempts to hide in the sub to get away from the fan, but the fan follows. The other Beatles lock them in and push them down the hill. Well, that was the plan but on race day and nerves flying around, it didn’t quite translate.

From Bicycle to Soapbox in 53 Days

Constructing the base of the soapbox fell on our male/crazy fan. He took two normal bicycles and used their braking system for front and back. He hooked up the steering and formed a crash bar on top. The vehicle had to be constructed by the parameters set by Red Bull so we could only make it so big. Plus we wanted it to hold two people. The base was made out of wood and he used metal to hold everything together. In addition, they had to be mindful of the final weight as there was a limit.

Once the steering and brakes were complete, it went out for its first test run on one of the quiet streets nearby. We tested on a steep hill that got the cart going about 30 miles an hour. Happily, the brakes held and the steering worked, just a few minor tweaks and that part of construction was done.

Paper Mache Meets Chicken Wire

Now it was time for the outer hull. I have to admit I had no vision on how that was going to happen but luckily we had a super creative friend who had an idea to use paper mache. So the long tedious job of forming the hull with newspaper and the white paste began.

At first we left a huge gap in the front because we were told by the driver that he wanted plenty of room to see down the hill. However, it looked funny and not much like a submarine, so we determined that the front needed to be closed off. We ended up covering the front with paper mache while only leaving about a shoe box sized hole for him to see through.

We knew this wasn’t going to fly and were anxiously waiting for him to come back from vacation to give us the dreaded thumbs down.

Surprisingly, he only asked us to make it a little larger and then explained that he would cut the chicken wire prior to the race. As soon as the go ahead was given to start, he would pull it down to expose a large window.  In the video you can see him pop the window open and then pull down the front as the race begins. What a good sport he was throughout this experience.

Over the course of a few weeks we had people over on their summer Saturdays to help with the paper mache. They were troopers because it is messy and, in my opinion, not a fun job. The basic shape came together and although bumpy in some places, it was starting to look like a sub. I still didn’t have the vision, but I was assured by our artist friend that it would all come together.

I made the door and window hatch out of bodyboard foam and it was made so it could be pulled up from the top with a wide enough opening for the two riders. Then it could be latched on the bottom.
My projects kept me a little bit out of the paper mache duty, of which I was happy.

Grommets were added to the door and our artist made some awesome portholes with hand painted Beatles faces. They looked great!

The whole thing was painted a bright yellow and a fantastic Red Bull logo was added to the front.

Finally, the propellers and periscopes were installed and final touches all around.

Now it was time for a test run on the same street but this time with the whole thing put together.

We all gathered around on a Saturday morning to view the final run and try on costumes. After three successful runs, we determined it was ready for race day! We were impressed with what was accomplished.


The Yellow Submarine movie was released a few years after the original song appeared on the Beatles Revolution Album. The movie was animated so we wanted to keep with the same style and bright colors. Our seamstress friend helped with embellishments that were added to the purchased thrift store clothes.

Abbey Road Meets Yellow Submarine

The internet offered up fake mustaches and wigs and we were set! “Crazy fan” bought some hippy clothes and we found fake guitars, eye glasses, and microphones online.

With a week away from race day we were pretty much set, save for a few minor items. Our artist added some nifty last minute touches to dress it up more and we were ready.

Race Day
With the race day looming on Sunday, all teams had to check in on Saturday to get their soapbox inspected. They allowed the teams to walk the race course and our team was quite surprised on how long and steep it was plus the amount of obstacles.

On the actual race day some of the obstacles were taken away. We surmised that the course designers figured some of the soapbox cars would not make it past the first part of the race if they were kept in place.

Jitters started to appear in JoJo as she saw that this was no joke of a course, with steep parts, hairpin turns, hay bales as obstacles, and a ramp at the end.

If the driver was nervous he never let on. I would imagine his only concern would be that JoJo in the back did her part in applying the brakes and leaning her body during the turns. I asked her if she was going to close her eyes, and I was happy to hear a resounding, “No.” I am sure he was happy to hear that too.

Before the actual race, they have all teams lined up in what they call the pit so that people can view the entries. There were some interesting and creative vehicles and amazing costumes. It is a sight to see. I was happy with the Yellow Submarine as it attracted a lot of attention and had everyone snapping away on their phone or cameras.

There were tons of people at this event all spread out in the massive Elysian Park near Dodger stadium. The race in 2009 attracted 110,000 people so it is a huge happening in LA. The spectators were lined up all of the way along the track which spanned over 2,500 feet long and you could hear their cheers as the soapbox vehicles flew by.

A lot of the crowd gathered around the three or more jumbotrons that were set up in different locations. This is where you could view the whole race.

The runs of the 63 teams would take up most of the day so it was lucky that we were number 3 to go off. As mentioned, each team has a 30 second skit to perform before they head down the hill.

After a short interview, our crew was given the cue to perform the skit, and 30 seconds later the mighty sub was sent flying down the hill. The remaining three of the Fab Four stayed behind to watch on the jumbotron as their creation swiftly made its way down the hill.

Fingers were crossed that the soapbox would make it in one piece and the occupants make it safely to the end. They all walked the course the day before and knew that it was no cake walk.

The cute little yellow sub made its way expertly through the turns and hay bales and there was only one scary part when the front wheel started to wobble. The crowd gasped but our faithful driver corrected it and continued on the way down with no other incident.

The last obstacle was a ramp and they made it over without a hitch, it was the landing that was the problem. The jump and landing caused some damage, in fact, unknown to the passengers, it took out the brakes! They soon found this out at the very end when it was time to slow down.

If not for the hay, they would have ended up in Pasadena! After two months of building and test runs, the vehicle abruptly stopped for its final moment of glory. The riders were worse for the wear as they slammed into the steering wheel and safety bar during the impact. They would be hurting the next day but for now the exhilaration was keeping the pain away!

After 53 days of hard work, the tiny sub stood at the finish line after a successful run and a respectable time.

Unfortunately, it was headed to the trash bin as we didn’t have any takers to store it in their garage. Really? Nobody wanted a broken down yellow sub to use for, ah, let me think…thinking…still thinking. I don’t know a parade or something? Nah, still no takers.

So it is a heartbreaking farewell to our bright yellow soapbox and the past few months spent with friends.

If you ever get the chance to go to a Red Bull Soapbox Race, please do so. As you look at all of the racers and cars, try to appreciate how much work went into them and maybe you will enjoy it even more.

We will see you in our next adventure.

The race from the Jumbotron

Story: Debbie Colwell

Some photos courtesy of Red Bull
Dan Krauss @dankrauss
Carlo Cruz @carlocruzphoto
Chris Tedesco @tedescophoto
Marv Watson @mrvphotography

Other photo credits:
Barbara Moreno
Debbie Colwell





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