Home > History of Kinetics

History of Kinetics

What in the World Happened?

-by Steven Emery

Take a generous portion of adventure, mix in some garage engineering and creative artistic license, then stir vigorously amongst enthusiastic fans, and you have a recipe for the most kaptivating form of racing: Kinetic Sculpture Racing. Fascinating to watch, Kinetic Sculptures are functional works of engineering art. Their designs can vary from simple one-person contraptions, to high tech, multi-pilot marvels with lengths of over seventy-five feet! After the creators of these kineticly inspired dream machines spend weeks, days, and months designing and building their sculptures, they face the challenge of completing a race course consisting of many terrain types. These types of terrain can be as easy as a paved road, or as messy as a sticky quagmire of mud. Sometimes the terrain becomes as dangerous as a choppy bay or a swift flowing river.

The origins of this colorful contest of human and machine dates back to Mother's Day 1969 in the quaint Victorian town of Ferndale, California. Before that first race, a local artist named Hobart Brown made a few artistic improvements to his son Justin's tri-cycle. After completion, Hobart displayed the newly created pentacycle in front of his art gallery. A nearby shop owner named Jack Mays created his own kinetic art sculpture and challenged Hobart to a race down Main street. As word caught on, other area artists joined in the race. Soon there were a dozen human powered art sculptures entered to race down Main street that first time. It is noted that neither Hobart nor Jack won that first race.

As the vehicles evolved, the more challenging elements of water and mud were introduced to the race course. In the interest of economy and self-sufficiency, the requirement to carry everything needed to negotiate a multi-terrain environment was deemed necessary. A kineticnaut (or kinetic pilot) had to be prepared for many hazards or breakdowns. Mastering the course without assistance is paramount to the philosophy of Kinetic Sculpture Racing.

Later, in 1983, the Greater Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race was held, making the Port Townsend the third oldest race on the ever growing Kinetic Racing circuit. The Port Townsend race still holds to the original values and spirit of the first race held in Ferndale. Relying on grass roots support, the Port Townsend race is one of the few remaining kinetic races that are not owned by a corporation. It is an independent race, with the volunteer organizers priding themselves on keeping the grass roots & kinetic spirit alive.

Today, fourty-four years after the first race, Kinetic Sculpture Racing has become a worldwide phenomenon. Races are now being held in not only Ferndale and Port Townsend, but the kinetic sculpture-racing concept has spread to Boulder, Colorado; Corvallis, Oregon; Ventura, California; Baltimore, Maryland; and Portland, Oregon. The kinetic race has become an international event with the addition of the Poland race and the Perth, Australia race. More races that are international are coming in the future. Races are now being organized in England, Germany, South Africa, and Japan. Kinetic sculpture racing has become a conduit for peaceful international competition and lasting relationships.

What started out to be a friendly, creative home town race has now grown up to be a philosophical, artistic, engineering movement, with a devoted following worldwide. It has become an appealing visual attraction drawing international media attention. The Kinetic Sculpture Race enjoys the reputation as a fun spectator sport, entertaining fans from all corners of the globe. These kineticnauts and their wacky Kontraptions; have won the hearts, and imaginations of all who witness this eccentric, eclectic pageantry of human powered machinery.