Looking for a quirky event to check out on Sept. 23? Then mark your calendar for the second annual Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race, a wacky competition that features home-made, human-powered amphibious sculptures that can conquer almost any terrain.
Bianca Mauro, who co-founded the race last year with UMass Lowell art professor Michael Roundy, describes it as a “a competitive parade of the arts and sciences.’’
Kinetic sculpture racing has been called “the triathlon of the art world.’’ It’s part sport, part obstacle course, and part theatrical production.
The car-sized contraptions that race are as funky as they are functional. Each one is a hand-crafted work of art that must be capable of traveling over mud, sand, and pavement, as well as through the waters of the Merrimack River.
Last year teams traveled from as far Pennsylvania and Maryland to participate in the Lowell race, according to Mauro. This year, the field of contestants is even bigger, as more than a dozen teams have signed up to compete for bragging rights. The youngest squad is made up of students who are entering 6th grade this fall (they named their team “Cheeseburger in Paradise’’ and built a vehicle that looks like a cheeseburger).
Lowell-based artist Jay W. Hungate, 52, will be back again to pilot his Iconic Flying Fish, a machine that’s designed to look like a shark.
His vehicle is made out of parts of a wheel barrow and several five-gallon water bottles and plastic mixing tubs that make it stay afloat. The decorative fish that hangs above the driver’s seat was made of cat food can covers, and the front wheels and part of the frame came from “a fat tire bike I bought at Target,’’ he said. He used aluminum snow saucers for hub caps, and the seat was originally part of a weight bench.
“I’ll be using the same machine, but I’ll be changing it up,’’ said Hungate, who plans to update the artwork. (“Punk it up a bit,’’ he said.)
He also installed a new drivetrain, which is more complicated than the one he used last year, so there may be more chances for problems. But he’s not worried.
“If it makes it, great. If not, it’ll be fun to watch it fail,’’ he said, with a chuckle.
To Hungate, that’s part of the event’s allure, and what makes the race so special. “Everybody’s a winner,’’ he said.
Indeed, there are plenty of honors to be won. There are awards for best costume; best pit crew; a Golden Dinosaur Award for the first sculpture to break down “or the most memorable breakdown’’; the Golden Flipper Award for the team with “the most interesting water entry’’; and the Best Bribes Award, given to the person who doles out the best goodies to spectators and officials during the race.
Last year 3,400 people showed up to witness Lowell’s first annual race, and bigger crowds are expected this year.
The race will be held — rain or shine — on Sept. 23, and starting at 8:30 a.m. spectators can get a closer look at the sculptures lined up on Market Street. Opening ceremonies will be held at 10:30 a.m., and then the race will begin at 11 a.m. with a Le Mans-style start (the pilots must run to their sculptures, hop on, and start pedaling) at the intersection of Market and Palmer streets. Then the audience will cheer on the contestants as they ride through the streets of Lowell and travel through a mud pit and plunge into the Merrimack River.
There will be food trucks and live entertainment, and spectators are encouraged to wear costumes. The race is free to attend and all ages are welcome.