A gathering of 115,000 spectators lined the streets along Fifth Street and Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles to witness 40 teams and their gravity-powered soapboxes compete in the Red Bull Soapbox Derby. Outrageous soapboxes, ranging from a Mexican Paletas (ice cream) cart to a more sophisticated Jurassic Park mobile, competed against the clock in a downhill race through a challenging course filled with jumps, tight chicanes, and a monstrous 90-degree bank that was responsible for causing several spectacular crashes throughout the day. Team scores were based on three criteria: speed, showmanship, and creativity, with a maximum combined score of 50 points. Team Import Tuner Magazine’s soapbox was a collaborative effort between Five Axis and Design Craft. It was inspired by the Japanese anime series called “Initial D,” which centers on touge (mountain pass) racing and drifting, and was driven by Formula D competitor Daijiro Yoshihara. The team worked around the clock for four weeks straight to construct what we consider the most intricate and over-engineered soapbox in the history of Red Bull competition. The soapbox’s body, designed by Five Axis of Huntington Beach, CA, was based on the original Scion FR-S sports coupe concept, which debuted at this year’s N.Y. Auto Show. All of the styling cues of the original concept car were retained—but re-proportioned to a toylike scale. Chassis fabrication duties were under the direction of Gary Castillo of Design Craft Fabrication, of Westminster, CA. Follow along as we detail the final stages of our build, as we prepared for competition at this year’s Red Bull Soapbox Derby.
“ The conceptual design behind the chassis was something I came up with in my head as we were building,” Gary says. “The only guidelines I had to follow were the dimensions of the body that Five Axis supplied and how big of a chassis I could build. The original plan was to make the chassis rigid with no suspension, but lo and behold, the crazy guy in me wanted to get all custom on the suspension and chassis dynamics.”
Mild steel tubing was used to construct the chassis, while Summit Racing provided the rod and tube ends for the suspension.
The mountain bike suspension and spring rates weren’t exactly what we wanted, but were closest to what we were looking for to make the soapbox rotate through the turns.
Multiple spacers were added between the rod ends to allow for caster adjustment, while the upper and lower control arms were fully adjustable to allow for camber changes. Gary claimed the adjustable suspension components, including adjustable roll center, would allow for navigating through a tight course and improving handling.
“ We knew the chassis and body combined were going to be heavy, so we installed a custom e-brake setup, Wilwood dual-piston calipers, and a set of cross-drilled disc brakes,” Gary says. The Wilwood brake calipers were not designed to bolt onto the moped wheels, forcing us to fabricate custom brackets to adapt to them.
One advantage of the pushrod suspension was its ability to adjust ride height. Since we were stuck with the provided spring rates, designing our custom suspension gave us the ability to adjust the motion ratio to compensate for the weight and suspension travel of the soapbox. Mike Kojima, of MotoIQ.com, graciously donated a go-cart seat for the cause.
We handcrafted a Japanese shoji door for our intro skit, using über-expensive maple wood and drafting paper.
Five Axis used the same methods they use on all their show cars to create the body of our soapbox, by starting with a CAD model.
Five Axis then hand-laid the fiberglass body using the molds, beginning with the driver-side body panel and roofline.
For the color, Troy brewed up a similar three-stage candy paint formula that was used on the FR-S Concept debuted at this year’s N.Y. Auto Show, except he spiced it up a little by adding a coarser metalflake for some extra flair.
MDF was used for the skeleton on the tires to give it that authentic look, while Five Axis’ ingenious design of removable wheel bottoms ensured enough ground clearance when barreling down the hill and jumping off ramps.
Instead of making real 3-D wheels, Five Axis chose to use high-res pictures of the real wheels from the FR-S concept and mount the images to some fake tires. They even had another set of wheels Photoshopped to look like they were spinning to put on the car when it actually raced. The illusion was awesome!
Roaming the streets of Huntington Beach, we found a hill that was steep enough to shakedown the soapbox.
We took advantage of our testing to adjust the caster, camber, and alignment of the soapbox to increase our downhill speed.
Red Bull soapbox rules allowed a group of five team members to partake in the competition. Upon further investigation, we found a loophole in the rules allowing us to replace Gary with the more eye-pleasing import model Michelle Sanchez, to play a role in our creative skit before the vehicle was launched downhill.
The team consisted of driver Dai, Troy in the Japanese outfit, Phillip as Godzilla, Michelle playing the model in the Japanese schoolgirl outfit, and Scott as the mechanic.
Crazy antics that excite the crowds in and around the pits are a large part of the Red Bull soapbox event.
Perhaps providing a hot model played a large part in the massive crowds gathering around our pit area throughout the day.
Five Axis employee and fellow competitor Geoff and his Wayne’s World team in the AMC Pacer experienced steering problems after plowing through bales of hay, forcing them into early retirement.
Troy made a quick costume change into a photo vest to play up a theme symbolic of 2NR magazine and mimicked a photo shoot with our model and the FR-S as our cover car, as the F&F 3 theme music played in the background.
Cue the classic Godzilla theme song, as Phil tore through our makeshift Japanese backdrop and proceeded to chase Michelle and Troy. Dai came to the rescue as the FR-S launched off the podium to get help down the hill. Yeah, it sounds like a cheesy 30-second skit, but was creative nonetheless!
The judges sat directly above the artificially banked 90-degree turn, which was deemed the most dramatic portion of the course. Even Dai, with nerves of steel, felt the jitters when asked to take the bank at full speed. “I’m a professional drifter and don’t get scared often, but that bank gave me sweaty palms.” Many competitors fell victim to the bowl as their soapboxes crashed and tumbled off the monster in destructive fashion.
The impact from the first jump caused all four wheel covers to explode off the soapbox—the crowd screamed in approval.
In the end, Team Lakers’ purple semitruck soapbox came in First, with Team Angry Bird Droppings, based on the popular iPhone app, placing Second. Third Place went to The Flying Scotsmen.
We collectively gathered all our belongings and made our way to the “soapbox graveyard” to retrieve our vehicle.
Although our run was successful, in the end our team failed to podium. We held our heads high, though, as Dai was able to walk away in one piece and the soapbox suffered only minor cosmetic damage. “People would rather watch extreme wipeout videos or shows like Jackass so why should the Soapbox audience want any different? Troy asked. “It’s all about smashing your soapbox and making a spectacle of yourself that gains the most points.” Regardless, being able to build such an innovative soapbox car and be a part of such an amazing race was definitely a win-win situation for all of us.
After the event, we asked Gary, Phillip, and Troy if they would do it again, if given the chance. All three replied with an emphatic “hell yeah!” Troy best summed it up by saying, “We have some ideas but can’t spill the beans just yet. There is also the Red Bull Flugtag . . . I’d be down for that, too! But most importantly, thanks to Red Bull, 2NR, my crew, my teammates, and our supporters for creating an awesome memory!”