Back in the 1930s soap-box carts were just that; the heavy wooden crates that soap powder cartons came in, fitted with second-hand pram wheels and rudimentary steering, made an ideal basis for a low-cost kid’s car.
And of course, as soon as boys of any age invent anything with wheels on it, they race them - in this case down the nearest steep hill. The annual All-American Soap Box Derby, now in its 85th year, is held on a purpose-built track in Akron, Ohio, and the fastest racers reach speeds of more than 80km/h in just 300 metres.
But the convenors of the Red Bull Box Cart Races simply refuse to take themselves that seriously; for them it’s all about having as much fun as possible building something totally outrageous and running it down the course, hopefully in one piece!
On 16 September Red Bull Box Cart racing will return to South Africa for the first time in eight years (the last time was in Soweto in 2010), to be run on a street course in Sandton that will be laid out by off-road racing legend Giniel de Villiers. Which is a warning bell in itself; no course laid out by ‘The Real Giniel’ is ever going to be straightforward, simple - or slow.
Following the application phase, 80 teams have been shortlisted to compete; they now have eight weeks to build their hand-made, non-motorised machines fuelled by sheer courage, the force of gravity and perhaps a little Red Bull. To help you understand why some carts flip, some flop and some fall apart, here’s Rob Marshall’s guide to what goes into a racing box cart that’s slick enough to get down the hill in a hurry and sturdy enough to arrive at the bottom in one piece.
1 Use a solid base