Most job descriptions don’t include “drive a wooden car made in three weeks down a massive ramp, over four jumps in front of 1200 people”. However in my second month working with Handcrafted, this is one of the unexpected things I have done.
Along with the other teams, we had two attempts to get down to the bottom of the 450 metre track at Herrington Country Park as quickly as possible. This wasn’t without a shortage of drama, mechanical changes and spectacular crashes.
Our soap box, the ‘Saw-Some’, was made in our workshop over three weeks under the careful supervision of our workshop-based support worker Graham, and Dean, one of our trainees and our primary racing driver. We’d had some practice with the car, getting to grips the steering and figuring out how best to make and drive the car with limited experience, but everyone was very willing to give it a go.
The wood used for the soap box came was reclaimed wood destined for the rubbish tip, donated to us by a lift company who are completing a large project in nearby Sunderland. Andrew, their Group Operations Director, said:
UK Lift and Escalator Company are happy to support Handcrafted with the donation of the shipping crates to help creative minds work with what would normally end up in landfill. Not just because it makes sense from a recycling point of view, but it’s great to see what innovative things will come out of this surplus wood.
When Andrew initially contacted us to see if we could put the wood to good use, we bet he had never imagined that the first batch would become our race entry. However, he clearly gets the Handcrafted ethos and understands our creativity, as he went on to say:
We look forward to lots more opportunity to support this local organisation and provide material that will morph into ideas and structures that will help on many levels for the builder creating new ideas, and the end user who will get the benefit of using it! Having the chance to be part of this outreach, supporting the confidence building and re-engagement is priceless.
On race day, we had a great crew of support, all cheering on Saw-Some on its maiden voyage down the massive ramp and through the jumps and chicanes that made up the course. We like to think we were a crowd favourite, as there were many photos in the pit lane before the race, taken of kids sitting in our soap box by excited parents.
There was a buzz amongst the crowd as we began our first run, with Dean coming down the first straight and over the first jump at real speed. At which point things went downhill.
Dean’s crash was phenomenal, with many of the crowd gasping as he dramatically flipped the car. Despite this, he righted the car, jumped straight back in and completed the race with help from those who had run down the track to push him back off.
Amazingly, Dean and the car were in good shape at the bottom of the run, with slight injuries to Dean’s knee and the wheels of the car the only things of note. Dean had been battling reverse steering, which we realised could be righted fairly quickly. So back in the pits, our massive team broke out the screws and screwdrivers and began the repairs to secure the seat down and allow the steering to turn the correct way.
During this break, Dean was gracious enough to allow me the chance to take it down for the second run. Dean said:
It was great being part of the soap box project from start to finish, have a hand in building it to then driving it in the race.
I’m not sure what hurt most – my head as we tried to figure out how to make it steer or my knees when it flipped during the race! Having watched the video of my crash I was impressed by just how well we’d built ‘Saw-some’ and the fact that I just got straight back up and headed straight for the finish line!
Bring on the next race!
After I almost binned it on the first straight, it was all going well through the first two jumps and the chicane, and thoughts of glory and a competitive time overwhelmed me. I had fancied myself as a bit of a driver, but predictably, the course did a good job of humbling me.
The most memorable part of soap box racing is always the crashes, so between Dean and myself we did a good job of being remembered. Both crashes embodied Handcrafted – when things do go wrong, we get straight back up and with the help of each other, we keep going. Even with the flips and danger we experienced, nothing was going to stop us giving our all and completing the race.
With an honourable 11th place, we gave a good account of ourselves and look forward to the return of Saw-Some.