Student racers display art on wheels

Ed Swaray

Amid a cheering crowd of approximately 100 faculty, students and well-wishers, Tim Matthews and Alyssa Mykkeltvedt cruised to victory with the fastest car in the student-created race car competition Wednesday.

Sponsored by the Department of Art’s kinetic sculpture class, the competition showcased students’ artistically designed race cars.

“This victory is bittersweet because it was so close,” said Matthews, who – along with his partner – won a golden trophy and a $150 gift certificate for the University Bookstore.

Guy Baldwin, arts professor and event organizer, said the competition was the third in a series of projects his class undertook during the semester.

He said the other two projects were sculptures designed for gallery settings, with electricity, motor and switches.

“This final project is about sculptures that move,” he said. “It gives students the opportunity to make something that is bigger, more challenging and technically complicated.”

He said the goal was to design a car that could race downhill, accelerated only by gravity – not by locomotion.

“The fastest car was the one with the least traction,” he said.

Twelve teams, composed of two students each, designed and built the 10-foot-long cars.

During the race, one student controlled the steering while another worked the brakes.

The 10-feet-by-5-feet starting ramps sloped down 2 feet at the back to street level at the front, he said.

A tip-down door – 4 feet wide by 3 feet high – helped release the cars.

The race, which started at Riverside Avenue, ran down 21st Avenue South – passing the Barbara Barker Center for Dance – and continued down the east and west buildings of the Regis Center, and finishing across from the Rarig Center.

Two judges determined the winners as the cars raced two at a time.

Baldwin, who said he had organized approximately four car races over the last 30 years, said he prefers to conduct the competition sparingly.

“We do not want to make it an annual competition, because it will stop being unusual,” he said.

At the event, students’ outfits were as flamboyant, outlandish and sometimes as unusual as their race cars.

One car was made of two llama heads, each pointing in opposite directions. That team won the competition for the most aesthetic outfit.

Another car was designed with colorful fabric from prom dresses.

Zach Colbeck said he and his partner chose the fabric because of its elasticity and attractiveness.

Colbeck, who won a gift certificate and acknowledgement certificate for the most innovative design, said his team spent approximately $100 designing and building the car.

Amanda Haugdahl and Amy Axt said they spent $2 building theirs.

The first-year art students said that even though they are not in Baldwin’s senior-level class, they volunteered to participate in the competition because it was an exciting experience.

Haugdahl said they built their car from leftover metals that other students put in the workshop’s scrap box.

“We bought each of these chairs for 99 cents and everything else was either a scrap or handout,” Axt said.

She said the competition gave them the chance to be creative and innovative. They also received a gift certificate for best outsider car.

Art senior Neal Perbix dressed up like a woman with a wig, a black evening gown and a pink scarf during the race. His art was called “Dinner for Two.”

Mounted on his car were a table and two chairs where Perbix and his partner sat during the race, while they ate pasta. They received a prize for the slowest car in the competition.

“This is like the end of the semester celebration for us,” he said. “Therefore, we decided to design something that is more entertaining to watch.”

Senior Keith Kaziak won for the second-fastest car. He said participating in the competition was more important than winning.

“The competition gave us a chance to show what we are doing here in art school,” he said. “This is good for students, and it’s good for the school.”

Baldwin said that although students were given the option to be imaginative and creative, they had to consider safety as well. He said each car had to pass an inspection for effective steering, brakes and safe structure.

During the race, the department also awarded $35,000 in scholarship awards to approximately 30 students.

Mark Pharis, the department chairman, said more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students applied for the scholarships.

A jury of faculty members selected the winners based on the quality of the artwork they submitted, he said.