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Adult Power Wheels Racing Is Real, Wonderful, And Totally Insane

Illustration for article titled Adult Power Wheels Racing Is Real, Wonderful, And Totally Insane

If there is a way to race something, people will race it. Enter the Power Racing Series, which is basically souped up Power Wheels built on a budget of $500. It is one of the most ridiculous, crazy, innovative, fun, and dangerous racing experiences I've ever seen, and you need to do it now.

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At our party for the Jalopnik Film Festival, I had two guys named Jim and Patrick come up to me, and start talking about their Power Wheels race series. At first, I thought they were lunatics. Then we started talking more in-depth.

Power Racing Series cars have a total budget of $500 and have to be all electric. The "template," if you will, is a Power Wheels like you had when you were a kid, but bespoke chassis are the norm. And when I asked about what wasn't allowed, the main thing was that no go-kart wheels, rubber, or chassis make the cut. That's it.

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Illustration for article titled Adult Power Wheels Racing Is Real, Wonderful, And Totally Insane

So that means wheels from bicycles and wheelbarrows. Hand welded chassis. Entrants in these races are probably members of Harbor Freight's frequent shopper program. When I asked about pre-race tech, I was told it's minimal. If it breaks, it breaks. I was intrigued and they invited me to their race on Sunday at the Maker Faire in Queens. I still think they're lunatics. But good lunatics.

What I saw when I arrived at Maker Faire was not quite what I expected. The track was a blocked off portion of a parking lot. There was a man dressed as a storm trooper. One racer had tiny wheels and looked like a dragon. There were balloons hanging off the back of one racer. The pace car was a sentient can of Liquid Wrench.

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Illustration for article titled Adult Power Wheels Racing Is Real, Wonderful, And Totally Insane

All of these little add-ons, like the entire dragon-themed ride (which had a tongue that was literally on fire), are for "Moxie" points. Somebody walks through the crowd with a board for people to vote on their favorite racer. It's a case where the car that wins the race might not win if another one gets enough Moxie.

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The goal of the dragon car was to get all of the moxie. And possibly light people on fire at the same time.

Illustration for article titled Adult Power Wheels Racing Is Real, Wonderful, And Totally Insane
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The race begins with a Le Mans start to the cars, and then they're off. And these little cars are way faster than you'd expect. Since the track is tight and short, top speed is probably around 20 MPH, but acceleration is Veyron levels of quick, when you take the scale into account.

Sunday was their endurance race, which is 75 minutes with a required driver change every 15 minutes. It's an enduro in time only. The short track and required driver changes make this a series of sprint races.

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Illustration for article titled Adult Power Wheels Racing Is Real, Wonderful, And Totally Insane

Traffic quickly builds up on the circuit thanks to the massive difference in speed between some of the cars. For example, the winning car completed more than 150 laps. The dragon car did about 45. Speed is a factor.

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And as we know from major motorsports, traffic can breed crashes. It's no different here. What is different is that the only safety gear required is a helmet, and some of them were wearing bike helmets. I took issue with this once I saw how fast these little bastards can go, and especially after we saw the first flip of the race, when a lead acid battery fell out onto the driver, who wasn't hurt. It was the first of three or four flips.

Illustration for article titled Adult Power Wheels Racing Is Real, Wonderful, And Totally Insane
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Nobody was hurt, which is incredible. Some people were wearing short sleeves and shorts. At a minimum I'd say a real helmet, neck brace, gloves, jeans, and an abrasive jacket are needed. I might also secure the batteries better. Then again, maybe the people racing should take it on themselves to realize "hey, I could get hurt here, I don't want to get hurt, I'll wear something appropriate for what I'm doing."

I'd also try and establish who can and can't just run on the track, since everyone pitches in to do the corner working. But that means people running out into the racing line when cars are coming. There were so many near misses.

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One last thing I'd add is some walls for the whole circuit (not just portions) that aren't curbs. Flip onto a curb, you have a problem, flip into a plastic wall, I think you'd have less of a problem.

Illustration for article titled Adult Power Wheels Racing Is Real, Wonderful, And Totally Insane
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Pit stops are also incredible since multiple teams had to quick change batteries in a matter of seconds. Teams were actually welding broken pieces back together and fabricating new parts when stuff broke. It's great to see the ingenuity and interest in engineering. Growing an interest in engineering is the crux of the series, and this is a prime example of that working. This isn't about money. People who participate make nothing. It's about fun and innovation.

That rocks.

At the end of the race I was offered a chance to test the winning car from team Sector 67. The work behind it is actually incredible. For $500, this is a water-cooled electric car with regenerative braking and batteries that last 45 minutes.

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Yes, you read that right.

Illustration for article titled Adult Power Wheels Racing Is Real, Wonderful, And Totally Insane
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You don't need to use the brakes, since the regen is so strong. Grip from the Harbor Freight-sourced wheels and tires was way better than expected. This isn't a Lotus Elise, but for something on what appears to be wheelbarrow tires, it's amazing. It's quick, too, with short gearing to make you reach top speed immediately.

It's a shit ton of fun. I recently said that a spec series based on the Panther platform is the best way to get involved in motorsports economically. I might have to take that back. The ingenuity shown here combined with the obvious happiness of everyone involved makes the Power Racing Series the ultimate feeder series for LeMons or a great way to have fun in motorsports for a little bit of money.

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You need to try it.

Photo Credits: Seva Liokumovich

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DISCUSSION

ulteriormotors
Jeremy Bloyd-Peshkin

Hi Travis,

It was nice to see you stop by our track. As a long-time power wheels racer, builder, and track designer/tech inspector, I'd like to explain a couple of things. If someone could pull this out of the grey, they would be great.

First of all, the series is all about fun. sometimes a race breaks out. It's motorsport, it happens. We have fast cars, we have slow cars. The whole point is to make the barrier to entry as low as possible. We do a number of things to accomplish this. We have a maximum cost. We make you race a children's toy. We don't require several hundreds of dollars of safety equipment.

That being said, safety is important to us. We have had some incidents in the past (mostly relating to out-of-control cars trying to go through track barriers), but nothing major. We do require all teams to have DOT-approved helmets. And we recommend long sleeves and pants. But this is where we start to run into trouble. Let's take a race like New York, since you were there. We have seven teams. That's not that many. We need to put on a good show, because we need to keep getting money. And so when a team shows up in short sleeves, shorts, and wearing a bicycle helmet, I have a problem on my hands and I have to make a judgement call. I want them to race. They want to race. And frankly, we need them to be able to put on a show. So I look at their car, and I look at how they drive, and I decide if they'll be safe. In the case of the NYC race, the teams with insufficient helmets were driving harbor freight wagons at ~5 mph. I decided that they would be alright. Now if someone from Sector67 had tried to hop in fauxrarri with a bicycle helmet, that wouldn't fly. Usually the faster teams have their drivers wear elbow and knee pads, because asphalt hurts.

Every year, the cars get faster, and with the higher speeds come higher risks of injury. The rules haven't been able to keep up. As such, I try to design the tracks to slow down the cars (for a good example of this, look at the race we did in Kansas City earlier this year). The track from New York is a recycling of last year's design, sown to the last inch. But I digress. For next year's season, I have a long list of additions to the safety portions of the rules. Long pants and sleeves are required. Pads optional, but recommended. No half helmets. Open face is the minimum, full face preferred. Shoes must come over the ankle. Batteries must be restrained in such a manner so that they will not fall out of the car in a copmplete roll-over. And the list goes on. I'm open to suggestions, because in the end I have to throw it all at the actual racers and see what sticks.

It's true that tech inspection is quick and simple. But that doesn't mean the same thing as minimal. I go over every car. Every system. I guesstimate whether every wire can carry its current load without melting. I make sure the brakes are up to spec. I make sure that the car won't kill the driver. But in the end, I can't be too stringent, because they're still toys. Most of them are built by people in their garages. They aren't engineers, welders, or machinists. And I don't want them to have to be. But if I let a car on track, you can be damn sure that it's not a real hazard, no matter how much it may appear to be one.

A side-note about injuries: usually the injuries sustained in the series are entertaining. For example, I burned the shit out of my ankle during the endurance race when we welded the front of out car back together, tossed the body on, and I just jumped in and raced. Because I don't give no fucks.

Anyhow, I've been going on for far too long. Forgive me. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. If you have suggestions, please do let me know. And if you're interested in just seeing some USDA Grade-A mayhem, here's some links.

Power Racing Series