The History of Kinetic Sculpture Racing

A crowd of people standing in a street.
Main Street in Ferndale, California, 1969

by Joe Gillis | Beyond Geek

The first kinetic sculpture race was held in 1969 as a short race down Main Street in Ferndale, California. That race has since evolved into the Kinetic Grand Championship, a massive 3-day, 47-mile race over land, sand, mud, and water that starts in Arcata and finishes on Main Street in Ferndale with the kinetic universe expanding to other cities across the globe. And all this was basically created by accident by two friends who wanted to have some fun.

Two men with mustaches standing next to each other.
Hobart Brown and Jack Mays

As legend has it, Hobart Brown’s son, Justin, would leave his tricycle out on the sidewalk in front of Hobart’s art gallery and people would complain about it. So eventually Hobart decided to turn it into a piece of art and he created the Pentacycle, the first kinetic racing machine. Another local artist, Jack Mays, saw it and felt he could build a better kinetic sculpture. He challenged Hobart to race them down Main Street on Mother’s Day at the annual Ferndale Art Festival. Jack got to work building his 12-foot high tank that he was sure would beat Hobart’s little Pentacycle, but it was another chance meeting that would propel this race into an immediate success.

Congressman Dan Clausen decided to take the Pentacycle out for a ride and was photographed on it. The picture went viral for the time and received national publicity. Between Hobart telling people and newspapers now writing about the upcoming event, other people began building machines and the race grew to around a dozen entries. About ten thousand people watched the first race where neither Hobart nor Mays won, it was Bob Brown of Eureka who was the first Grand Champion with his kinetic turtle that laid eggs and produced steam.

A man on a bicycle next to a paper turtle.
Hobart Brown on his Pentacycle and Bob Brown in his unfinished Kinetic Turtle

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