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Whoa! Look at That ... Um ... Thingamajig Go!

September 23, 2018

Nick Anastasia of Somerville lowers the Lobster Roll's flotation devices prior to the water event.

LOWELL -- If it’s not already hard enough to build a pedal-driven amphibious vehicle that doubles as a gigantic freeform sculpture, several teams came to Lowell with their “kinetic sculptures” to race them on a rugged 6-mile course over mud, water and city streets.

But believe it or not, for over 50 years groups of innovative craftsman across the country have been designing and building these contraptions and racing them. Saturday represented the third year that Lowell joined this physically and mentally exhausting undertaking known as Kinetic Sculpture Racing.

As Lowell is a fairly new joiner, the organizers of the Lowell race said, in the third year, they are finally starting to feel like part of the group with an eclectic mix of teams.

“We have a team from California that are veterans from having raced in a number of different races out there. And we also have two teams from Baltimore. So it’s really exciting to see that there are new teams coming from all different kinds of places. We really appreciate that,” said race co-director Michael Roundy.

Over three years ago Roundy started the race with co-director Bianca Mauro. While she serves as production director, Roundy handles the role of race director.

Roundy said the involvement of teams from other states, especially from the ones that have been racing for decades, is a sign they are becoming even more embedded in the half-century-old racing endeavor, one that combines the practical application of classroom mathematics and physics with an intense and physically demanding race course.

The third annual Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race began, as it has in past years, on Market Street near the intersection of Palmer Street.

The kinetic sculpture known as Silver Streak, after the 1970s action thriller, was designed and built by a couple who trekked all the way from Grass Valley, California, with their vehicle made to look like a small train car from the movie.

California resident Pam Slocum said that she and her race partner Scott Campbell together represent nearly 30 years of experience in kinetic sculpture racing. Slocum said that the factor she always dreads is the consistency of the mud, which can either make or break your progress.

“Every race has all different types of mud and never know until you get there,” said Slocum. Sometimes it’s just sloppy mud because there’s a lot of water in it or sometimes it’s like nearly dried cement, and that kind of mud is horrible. And then there was the kind of mud today. Which was just mud, and not that bad.”

Overall, Slocum said, they just wanted to “ace” -- that’s kinetic sculpture racing jargon for you newbies.

“For us, our goal is to ace. That means you’ve done all the obstacles under your own power without having to get pushed or pulled. And we did that today,” Slocum said.

Families and young adults gathered around each section of the race and followed racers as they moved through downtown Lowell to a mud pit at the Tsongas Arena parking lot. After that, racers cruised by some of the UMass Lowell South Campus, over the University Avenue bridge and down Pawtucket Boulevard. This brought them to the boat ramp across from Heritage Farm, where racers splashed into the Merrimack River, moving themselves the short distance down the river to the public beach on the other side of the stage.

One team from Catonsville, Maryland, had only a single peddler powering and steering a giant turtle/lizard sculpture with thickly treaded wheels. Even with the lack of team members, Maryland resident Phil Smith had no problems with the mud pit, one of the hard sections.

“It was a lot easier than Baltimore. But it wasn’t that easy. It kills your arms,” said Smith. However, he said he wasn’t looking forward to the next obstacle, the Merrimack River. “It’s the only thing I’m nervous about. But it’s done water successfully.”

Roundy said that they were also very pleased to have some youth involved as well.

“This year we have two teams from Lawrence from the youth development organization, which we’re really excited about because they’re youth teams. That’s very exciting for us.”

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