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Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race
2009 Race Report

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Saturday 2 May 2009

What a great day to be in Baltimore! The eleventh annual East Coast Championship Kinetic Sculpture Race was a resounding success, with no shortage of spectacular sights, high-speed chases, and catastrophic breakdowns. The Dumpster Divers provided drama at the water entry with a crowd-pleasing rolling capsize. The Mud Doctor volunteers outdid themselves by creating the most challenging adhesive pit in Baltimore race history that sucked shoes off pit crew and stopped racers in their tracks. Spectators lined the streets of the 13-mile racecourse to see the amphibious human-powered works of art fly by.

Here are the highlights.

The Champion: Goin’ Griswold

The winner of the eleventh annual Grand Mediocre East Coast Championship was Goin’ Griswold, based on National Lampoon’s Vacation. The Gottwald family of Great Falls, Virginia played the role of the Griswold family of suburban Chicago in their Wagon Queen Family Truckster heading for Wally World. In last year’s race, the Gottwalds were the culprits behind Otter Chaos.

The first photo shows the Griswolds passing the kinetic checkpoint at Fells Point.

They carried the theme with luggage and Aunt Edna on the roof, affixing movie quotes as signs and bumper stickers, playing audio clips from the film, and wearing 1980s fashionable polo shirts and Madras shorts. They received only one ticket from the Kinetic Kops, for carrying a corpse on the roof.

In contrast to the vehicle in the 1983 film, the kinetic vehicle was generally robust and sturdy. On the water, they used duffel bag pontoons for stability.

They applied to complete the race for the ACE award, following much more stringent engineering rules. The steep and slippery water exit is the site of more sculptures losing their ACE status than any other. Mechanical stress there resulted in a drive train breakdown that was soon repaired but failed again in the sand, where they abandoned the quest for ACE.

Small propellers near wheels are becoming more popular among Kinetic engineers in 2009. This is a fiendishly clever and simple method of water propulsion.

Happily Never After

This gothic rendition of the Cinderella fairy tale won the prestigious Art award, and wowed the crowd along the entire course. Before the start, Happily Never After was fashioned as a giant pumpkin, until a Fairy Gothmother used her magic wand and transformed into a coach with two black horses with a great cloud of white smoke. Clad in black crowns and corsets, their pilots propelled the magic carriage on the water with paddlewheels and shovels.

The foundation of their sculpture was a mid-20th century Italian 4-seater surrey bike, which seemed a great start until they discovered that to match its unusual specifications they needed to import additional parts from Italy to bring it up to racing condition.

The veteran Make Believers team has been entering every year since 2002, and has won numerous awards for their spectacular entries.

Cheese Racer

Cheese Racer won the Engineering award for their smooth-operating 4-pilot entry. The dramatic Cracker Barrel pontoons held up well on the water at Canton. They required pushing and pulling to complete the sand and mud (due to their thin tires) but the judges were impressed by their design and reliability through the 13-mile course. The sculpture was engineered entirely by students at Sollers Point Technical High School.

Rocky Horror Picture Shoe

The Baltimore School for the Arts entered Rocky Horror Picture Shoe, a giant sparkly tribute. By vote, they received the Pilots’ Choice award from their fellow pilots. They also received the Sock Creature of the Universe award for the quality of their thematically-consistent mandatory sock puppet.


The It Cain’t team returned for their fifth consecutive year with another bold design. This year’s NCC-1701 reflects the design of Star Trek’s original USS Enterprise, and was piloted by Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and Uhuru. They won the Speed award—and in 2008 they did the same when they raced Think Tank, so things are clearly going well in the engineering department.

Hot Beef Injection

Baffling the Engineering judges with their simultaneous technical prowess and dramatic failures, Hot Beef Injection was an amphibious barbecue grill in which each pilot represented a chunk of food, and pit crew represented condiments and cooking implements. Adding to the festivity, they had an actual functional grill on board and served hot cooked food as bribes to race officials.

Spectators particularly enjoyed the sight of delectable food items navigating the Baltimore Harbor.

They had a novel propulsion scheme in which each pilot used a single large foot pedal to contribute energy into the drivetrain, which was conveyed to the wheels through extraordinarily sturdy chains. Much of the powertrain was constructed on a Ford Bronco II chassis, which resulted in an overall weight rumored at 1,800 pounds. Unfortunately, the frame for the pedal structure was a weak link and began warping almost immediately. They suffered their first breakdown as they crossed the starting line. By the time they had rounded the first corner to climb Federal Hill, the pilots had all gotten out to assist the crew in pushing. They received the Worst Honorable Mention award given to the sculpture “whose half-baked theoretical ‘engineering’ did not deter its pilots from the challenge of the race.”

You can see the crew fatigue mounting as the afternoon wore on in the final photo below. For their dogged determination to push their sculpture through the race, they received the Best Pit Crew as well.

This is the same team that created 2008’s It’s Ben Hur, Hon and 2007’s Acme Kinetic Sculpture.

Water entry photo courtesy of Shawn Levin Photography.


David Hess and his Horkology Foundation of Baltimore brought back the immense PLATYPUS (Personal Long-range All-Terrain Yacht Proven Un-Safe) sporting a new larger platypus sculpture. For 2009, Pokey is more cartoonish and well-fed, and bears a stylish boater hat. They were the hands-down winner of the People’s Choice award, as determined by an extensive survey of the crowd conducted by Kinetic chicken volunteers.

In the splashing water entry, note the position of the lead passenger’s feet.

With eight pilots pedaling, one barnacle driving, and room for a second redundant barnacle up through the rooftop hatch, PLATYPUS retains the largest crew of any entry in Baltimore Kinetic history.

The singing, dancing, marching pit crew sported furry hats, and tutus made from plastic trash bags.

Oregon Trail

Oregon Trail is based on the 1980s computer game, and featured a covered wagon pulled by two oxen and a variety of animals and props from the game. They received the Best Costumes award for “daring to be beige” in a setting generally dominated by the flamboyant. This is the first entry from The Light, a Mt. Vernon art gallery and Christian church.

Air Cosmonauts

This brightly-colored entry is Air Cosmonauts, inspired by the Air Penguin film and the pilots’ Russian heritage. It sports four flight-goggled pilots and a barnacle.

Ella and the Elements

Ella and the Elements is the first entry from the eighth grade of Roland Park Elementary School. Each pilot and pit crew member took the role of an individual element like helium or aluminum. While the engineering consisted of a wooden frame integrating three bicycles, it held up remarkably well, including at the water transition where the pilots simply climbed onto the frame for paddling.

Going to Hell

Going to Hell is this bright red first entry from a Falls Church, Virginia team. Their bold red theme was well-executed with flying demon on a stick, red jumpsuits for pilots, and festive costumes for the pit crew, complete with poms. (There was no handbasket to be seen.)

They also had a devilishly creative solution for real-wheel drive at the water exit. Rear-wheel-drive sculptures tend to have major difficulty because the flotation keeps the rear wheels from getting any traction. By hinging the aft ends of their pontoons, they were able to sink the rear wheels for effective aqueous egress.

However, their engineering consisted principally of two tandem bicycles which seemed not quite up to the task; one of the wheels tacoed about 60% of the way through the racecourse as they approached Patterson Park, and they were unable to complete the race.

A very good first-year entry, and we hope they return in 2010!


The American Visionary Art Museum’s Fifi returned for her ninth annual Kinetic race. This year, she sported a bevy of French maids as pit crew to keep her 1801 pounds at the peak of pinkness. She tied with Safety Bears for Best Bribes.

The photo of Fifi at the AVAM museum building is courtesy of Shawn Levin Photography.

Voodoo Air

The energetic team responsible for 2008’s Wilma & the Wombats returned with the new Voodoo Air, bringing the same great music. Bearing a giant silver zeppelin, they powered through the course with aplomb.

Green Racer Flips

The veteran Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia brought back their Green Racer, which looked the same as last year but had a new surprise—flippability! Before they made it halfway down the pier at the water entry, they showed signs of instability as the sculpture began to lean to the right. Soon, the pilots were climbing out of their seats and around the sculpture as it continued to capsize, rolling underneath them. With rescuing from a line thrown by Kinetic Baltimore’s Johanna Goderre, and once pulled to shore by the mighty Ramp Master Michael Cooney, they continued the race sodden but unbeaten. For such a maneuver, they were destined to win this year’s Golden Flipper award for the “most interesting” water entry.


Snakehead is a tribute to the invasive fish that walks on land and despoils Maryland’s waterways. The team from Takoma Park saved plastic bottle lids for two years to form the colorful shell.

When they attempted to enter the water, their frame proved unworthy of its mechanical challenge, and the pontoons spread wide while threatening to submerge the pilots. Although they lost the ACE award, they did complete the race through to the finish line.

Got Ice?

It seems that almost every year’s Kinetic Race brings a very different entry on the theme of penguins, and Got Ice? includes polar bears, all wearing Hawaiian leis in concerned anticipation of the effects of global warming. The sculpture didn’t offer very good visibility for its pilots, but did complete the race. It was created by the Baltimore Lab School, responsible for 2008’s Pirate Punks.

Safety Bears

Looking extraordinarily similar in design to 2008’s Popemobile, the Safety Bears managed to climb the steep hump at the beginning of the mud pit without assistance. They tied with Fifi for the Best Bribes award because their assorted safety-related bribes impressed the judges.

Jemicy: Critter, Lady Jaye, Low Rider Max, Sneaky Moose, and Philly Flyer

Every year since 2004, Brandon Emmons of the Jemicy School of Baltimore County has led students building Kinetic Sculptures. (If you’re starting to get interested in building a sculpture of your own, you would do well to consult his textbook linked on the Enter page.) While not exhibiting a great deal of the art aspect of the race, every one of the five Jemicy entries this year won an ACE award. Here, Critter is alleged to be a self-portrait of its pilot.

Lady Jaye is an art student combined with GI Joe commando. She also achieved an ACE award.

Low Rider Max is based on an El Camino. Note that the judges keep a close eye on sculptures to ensure that they truly merit receipt of an ACE award, as this one did.

Sneaky Moose is the third time around for this sculpture, which lacked moose festooning this year. It also achieved the ACE award.

Philly Flyer is the fifth Jemicy entry, and while lacking in art it did win an ACE award.


Cycloctopus was a part-cyclops, part-octopus 7-seater built on a conference bike chassis. As the only official bush-league entry, it did not enter the water.

It was built by a team of community youth and mentoring college students, and sponsored by the Renaissance Youth Bike Shop.

Hillbilly Racer

Hillbilly Racer came to the East Coast Championship all the way from the 2008 Missouri Kinetic Race. He won the first-ever I Came Very Far To Get Here award.

Kinetic Airways

Bob Buerger of Frederick brought back Kinetic Airways for its tenth year. After a string of technical breakdowns in recent years, he was still trying to ACE the course for the fifth time. This year, he cleared the water entry and used his broad temporary treads to easily navigate the sand and mud. But he got a flat tire, and then another, which made progress much more difficult. Yet he persevered, calling one of the judges on his cellphone to ensure that the finish line remained open. (The World Championship in California has a time limit.) By the time he crossed the finish line, the awards ceremony was about to begin—but he achieved his ACE.

Rat Rod

Last year’s champion Rat Rod returned for an encore. Based on the Rat Fink character first drawn by Ed “Big Daddy” in the 1950s and 1960s, the 2-seater kinetic hot rod again achieved the level of success expected of champions.

The fifth wheel under the center of the sculpture bears weight on the long chassis.

AVAM’s Bumpo, Rat, and Frog

The American Visionary Art Museum maintains a stable of animal-themed sculptures to help inspire Kinetinauts to greatness. This year, Bumpo the elephant was modeled on the Academy Award success of Slumdog Millionaire. Pilots and pit crew were costumed as live Oscars, paparazzi, and the cast. They played the soundtrack along the racecourse, and provided champagne so race officials could toast their success.

Bumpo team photo courtesy of Shawn Levin Photography.

For 2009, the Rat King was spruced up on a Nutcracker Suite theme, complete with a royal pit crew member.

AVAM’s Frog returned for its eighth race. It had a new left eye to remedy its 2008 injury, but somehow lost its tongue during the race.

Twitter Jay & the Recyclists

The Johns Hopkins University submitted its first kinetic entry, Twitter Jay and the Recyclists to commemorate their blue jay mascot. The blue shell was created out of a vast quantity of recycled plastic grocery bags.

However, the sculpture’s engineering had major problems; near the National Aquarium they had a catastrophic taco-wheel failure and the crew had to resort to carrying it the rest of the race. It had been intended that spectators send text messages for the sculpture’s LED display, but once the carrying began, the electronics and other weighty elements were jettisoned.

Twitter Jay’s team was awarded the Golden Dinosaur award for their breakdowns and dealing with them in style.

See their video on Youtube!

Festivity Among the Crowd

Many spectators, pit crew, volunteers, and pilots were well-costumed for the day. Here are some of them.

The Kinetic Baltimore Team

Kinetic Baltimore in 2009 had a team of six photographers stationed throughout the race and leaping from site to site in a chaotic logistical ballet in order to provide you thorough details of the race proceedings on this website.

From left to right:

Andy Carruthers: Chief Photographer and Visual Storyteller Extraordinaire.

Amy Swackhamer: (our new member) Head Race Commentator.

Tom Jones Creator of Fine Websites, Maps, Spectator’s Guides, and other Paraphernalia to the Kinetic Trades, and Kinetic Seer #746 ordained by the Glorious Founder, Hobart Brown. Tom was unfortunate to have an extended 4-hospital adventure with Wegener’s Granulomatosis, and was on chemotherapy and lucky to be alive for this year’s race. Tom and the Kinetic Baltimore team were awarded the 2009 Spirit of the Glorious Founder award, a spectacular mirrored glass sculpture trophy.

Johanna Goderre: Director of Benevolence.

Karen Wallace: Supreme Instigator of Kinetic Finery, Mad Haberdasher, and Festivator of the Masses. See her work on

Michael Cooney: Ramp Master and Crowd Wrangler.

Team photo courtesy of Shawn Levin Photography.

Show individual pages
  1. 2009 Champion: Goin’ Griswold
  2. Happily Never After
  3. Cheese Racer
  4. Rocky Horror Picture Shoe
  5. NCC-1701
  6. Hot Beef Injection
  8. Oregon Trail
  9. Air Cosmonauts
  1. Ella and the Elements
  2. Going to Hell
  3. Fifi
  4. Voodoo Air
  5. Green Racer Flips
  6. Snakehead
  7. Got Ice?
  8. Safety Bears
  9. Jemicy’s Five
  1. Cycloctopus
  2. Hillbilly Racer
  3. Kinetic Airways
  4. Rat Rod
  5. AVAM’s Bumpo, Frog, and Rat
  6. Twitter Jay & the Recyclists
  7. Festivity Among the Crowd
  8. The Team

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The Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race is sponsored and run by the American Visionary Art Museum. is the volunteer work of Tom Jones.
If you have suggestions about making this site better, or questions, e-mail Tom at