Machine Design
Hackers, start your motors, if you can

Hackers, start your motors, if you can

Hackerspaces spawn the Power Racing Series

If you’re too old for the Soap Box Derby, not well-heeled enough for Formula I or IndyCar, and not too thrilled about high speeds, but you still want to “race,” maybe the three-year old Power Racing Series is more your style. The lighthearted Series was born out of the love of high and low-tech tinkering and the proliferation of hackerspaces — industrial workspaces set up for building projects, especially those that repurpose existing technologies and equipment.

The red Fauxrrari from Team Section 67 passes another racer on the inside at one of the Power Racing Series events.

In the case of the Power Racing Series, the original equipment comes in Power Wheels, Per Peregos, and Little Tykes, with teams adding battery-powered motors.

Teams add practically any kind of electric motors, as long as they run on 13 to 36-Vrms or less and have a kill switch. Power comes from batteries based on sealed-lead-acid, lithium-iron-phosphate, or nickel-metal-hydride chemistries. Any type of wheels and hubs are allowed as long as they aren’t slicks or tires with racing treads, or performance go-kart wheels. And all the motive power must be transferred from the wheels to the track, so no jet engines. Vehicles must also carry mechanical brakes and measure no larger than 70-in. long, 40-in. wide, and be no taller than 72 in., including the height of the driver. And drivers must be at least 16-years old with a valid driving license.

A crowd favorite on the Power Racing Series circuit is Omni Corps Detroit team’s Banana Car, a rolling tiki bar with a built-in sound system.

Teams are encouraged to decorate their vehicles but sharp objects that could harm other drivers or cars are forbidden. And race officials will ban vehicles from racing they deem dangerous to other vehicles and drivers, including vehicles that don’t look like their drivers can control them.

Vehicle modifications must cost less than $500, with a few exceptions. For example, the overall budget does not include the cost of the initial vehicle (new or used), helmets, brakes, kill switches, or harnesses. Spares and replacement parts are also excluded. But officials suspecting a team has gone over the $500 allocation have the option of buying the car for $500. The offending team can then buy their vehicle back if they remove the expensive gear and reenter the next racing event.

The Series started with an impromptu race in 2009 and has grown to a schedule of five races with 29 certified teams. This year’s races will be held in San Mateo, Calif., Kansas City, Detroit, Fort Wayne, Ind., and New York City.

Power Racing has its own point system, but as you might expect, points scales are not quite like those of Indy. Each team has to qualify for the big race(s) at each event, and then earn points ranging for finishing first (100) down to eleventh (1). To add some excitement and get the crowd involved, race officials let the crowd vote for teams electronically and in real time as the vehicles race. Cars have earned these “Moxie” points for resembling giant boom boxes, firing confetti cannons into the crowd, and having the driver outfitted as a Mexican masked wrestler. Popping a wheelie is also popular.

There are three awards handed out at every race to first, second, and third place: The Golden Yes, The Silver OK, and the Bronze No. And there are other awards teams can win in a race. The Crash and Burn Award, for example, goes to the team that spends the most time trying to get back on the track after inadvertently going cross county, and The My Pretty Princess Award goes to the best-looking car which, according to officials, is rarely the fastest and rarely looks as good after the race as before.

At the year-end Finals, three trophies are handed out. The Tesla Cup goes to the team that garnered the most points, both for racing and moxie. The Moxie Cup goes the team that received the most Moxie points. And the Champman Trophy goes to the team that won the most races.

Power Racing Series founder Jim Burke says he wants to get high schools involved in the Series and have hackerspaces mentor teams. He also wants to foster fun and inexpensive education with real-world trial and error.

Resources: Power Racing Series,

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