In 2009, Jim Burke, a graphic designer, was at Makerspace Chicago, a meetup space where casual tinkerers get together to work on engineering side projects, when he stumbled upon a discarded Power Wheel. In between projects, he started joking with friends about how much fun it would be for adults to burn rubber in beloved children’s car.
“So we started messing around with it for fun,” Burke recalls. “Eventually, we were asked if we would want to do something with it at a Makers Faire in Detroit.”
Burke and his buddies convinced a few other teams to create some vehicles and join in Detroit for a race. The inaugural event had a total of six souped up kids’ vehicles raced by adults. The event was a hit — and undeniably fun. And thus, the Power Racing Series, the wildest mini-race in America, was born.
The Power Racing Series is not like other racing. As its mission statement reads, it was “founded to fulfill the desire of being oversized adults in undersized vehicles.” Think of it as Mario Kart come to life. Or Hanna Barbera’s Wacky Races. Or F1 for folks who drive with their knees near their armpits. In its current form, competitors — often adults — drive souped up versions of electric kids’ vehicles. Teams or racers create and customize their own rides, transforming them into mini school buses, giant sandwiches, and other designs that are equal parts bizarre and brilliant.
The Power Racing Series’ appeal is obvious – who wouldn’t want to spend a Saturday competing in a race against other customized kids car? But it’s more than that. It’s an event where people can develop their building skills and showcase their creativity, while competing in a wild event. And Burke believes the success of the race all boils down to camaraderie that creates as well as the sheer joy of whipping around a course in a tiny car.
To enter, teams must have a minimum of three members (a driver that’s 16 or older, as well as a mechanic and volunteer), but there’s no limit to how many members (drivers, however, must be 1They must use a Power Wheel or similar vehicle no longer than 62 inches or wider than 36. Cars must be steered by the driver (no R/C vehicles) and have a maximum of 42 volts from the motor. There are safety precautions and a wide variety (and thorough rundown) of build rules that cover everything from bumper coverage to car height to battery precautions. But they still allow for a near endless array of customizations. So long as they stay within the price cap: each team. is only allowed to use $500 to pimp their ride and make necessary upgrades.
All race specifications are listed in the wonderfully droll PRS Rules for the Terminally Humorless, which provides a good sense of why this competition is so enjoyable. Just look at the “I Ain’t Even Mad” Clause:
“We don’t like people who half-ass things. If you are going to break one of our rules, we encourage you to go full ass, above and beyond the call of duty. We don’t want cheap and sneaky exploits. We want clever hacks that will make great stories. If you feel like taking things too seriously, we want you to build something so blissfully impressive, so Adrian Neweyesque clever, or downright SpeedyCop crazy that your rule infraction gets an “I’m not even mad, actually I’m impressed” reaction from our judges. This may (or may not) exempt you from penalties.”
Even the rulebook makes Burke and his pals seem like guys you just kind of want to casually hang with. And that’s the point. While plenty of teams are filled with experienced drivers, Power Racing Series is an experience for both experts and novices. Creating a racer is quite involved, but failures are celebrated with first-place finishers. As the site states “races are more fun when everyone gets to share in our collective fiery mistakes.” Plus, the growing community is available to share advice to anyone in need of some suggestions.
That community has an engineer-meets-internet-geek feel to it. Drivers dig deep into pop culture and their own imagination to create their cars. Some of the most memorable include mini replicas of the Bluth Stair Car from Arrested Development and the time-traveling Delorean from Back to the Future.
And those designs cars aren’t just for show. As Burke explains, “we don’t only award points for how cars finish, we also give the crowd ability to give points for style of the car.” There are also bonus points awarded for those who build vehicles selected by the race creators, which this year include Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine, the A-Team Van, and any car from Jurassic Park.
“This year, we have a team that is nowhere near the fastest, but they have built a fully-scaled down Oscar Meyer Weinermobile,” says Burke. “And people really like voting for that one.”
The Power Racing Series is growing fast. There are four divisions and nine races in 2017, the next of which is to take place in New York September 22-24 at World Maker Faire. Though it’s not a full-time gig for Burke yet (he still works as a Graphic Designer) he is the main man behind the sport’s growth. “I sort of consider power racing a weird art project I’ve been doing,” Jim admits.
And he’s most proud of the camaraderie in the tiny racing world he’s constructed. “We’ve created a really strong community of people that come back every year,” he says, adding that most of their racers start as spectators and then are compelled to join after witnessing the fun. “People will watch it, enjoy it, and then next year want to enter,” he says. It makes sense. Who wouldn’t want to join in on all the madness?