The thrills and spills of the Red Bull Soapbox race (pictures)

See what happens when teams of adults hurl themselves down a steep hill in bizarre homemade carts propelled only by gravity.

Andrew Lanxon
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
Andrew Lanxon
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Welcome to the Red Bull Soapbox race, where teams of wildly excited adults build a wonderfully bizarre range of carts, and send themselves hurtling down a steep downhill course.

Achieving speeds of up to 45 mph, these carts are propelled by nothing more than gravity and steely determination as they manoeuvre their way around a range of jumps and obstacles, often losing control and crashing hilariously along the way.

This year's Soapbox race was held on the slopes surrounding London's Alexandra Palace, and I went along to see just what this wacky race involved.

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Many of the carts were modelled after popular culture icons, such as this landspeeder from 'Star Wars'.

As a race, it's important for each team to set the fastest time possible in their run down the 500-metre track, but points are also awarded for the creativity in the design of the cart, the costumes, and the flair of the 20-second performance each team must perform at the start of their race.

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I call this shot 'Speed beard'.

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Meet the Winterfellas, here to quite literally race for the Iron Throne.

"The cart was forged over the hottest furnaces in all of Westeros and took a millenia to perfect," driver and self-proclaimed 'True king of the North' Mike Lonsdale told me.

"Many lives were lost in this process. Its value can't be quantified by traditional means -- how do you put a price on all the men who gave their lives building our fine chariot?!"

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I asked them if they were at all concerned about the dragon-mother Daenerys Targaryen chasing down the throne aboard her dragons. "Red Bull clocked us at 38 kph and I have it on good authority that Daenerys' dragons can't fly much faster than 30 kph, so she isn't going to get it back," the king confidently explained.

"The throne belongs to us North-men now."

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Even kings will be unceremoniously hurled from the cart when they smash into the emergency hay bales at the end of the track.

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Team 'Steampunked Mean Machine' modelled their cart after Dick Dastardly's car in classic cartoon 'Wacky Races'.

"The cart took about 2 months of evening and weekends to build," crew member Aiden Moore explained to me, "We managed to beg and borrow a fair bit so all in all we estimate it cost £130."

"We tested it in a village called Rothes, where it was built, down a hill in the grounds of a whisky distillery."

Moore didn't say exactly how much whisky was consumed during the testing phase, but I presume it was a significant amount.

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The Steampunked Mean Machine picked up a lot of speed on its run. As you can see, its crossing of the finish line was somewhat dramatic.

"The brakes were always an issue," Moore explained, "When Craig (the driver) got to the bottom he tried to 'Tokyo drift' it round to slow it down but the back wheel ended up buckling and sent him upside down. He's fine and survived. Just a couple of bruises and scrapes."

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Craig was by no means the only driver to take a tumble on the track. Paramedics, unsurprisingly, were on site.

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The winning team, 'The Breakfast Club' wowed the audience with a car that started the race as the A-Team's iconic black van, before shedding its bodywork to become the 'Dukes of Hazzard's Dodge Challenger, before finally turning into the DeLorean from 'Back to the Future'.

It may not have hit 88 mph going over the jump, but the flame effect was a winner nonetheless.

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Team 'Turtleheads' modelled their racer after Crush from 'Finding Nemo.' Team members Kevin and Sam told me it took them a full 10 weeks to build. "There's a quiet road behind our garage that we had our test runs on. Luckily the road was empty because during our first test the steering wheel snapped off and we had a big bump into the wall."

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"Taking part felt surreal," they told me. "Nothing will ever compare to it, the crowd really got behind us and it left us speechless."

"We had the best weekend we could have hoped for, so many teams were great sports and fun to be around, the staff were all amazing. To top it off we even managed to snag the people's choice award and spray a little champagne."

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The course featured a range of obstacles, including a chicane, a set of three large bumps called the "bone-rattler" and finally this large jump.

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Drivers had to ensure they landed correctly after the final jump to stop their vehicles careering off into the sides.

This racer didn't get it quite right and ended up ploughing his cart right into where I was standing.

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I got out of the way just as the cart smashed into the hay bales.

The cleanup team spent a lot of time picking up bits of ruined soapbox from the track.

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Where else can you see a man dressed as an old farming lady, racing a homemade combine harvester down a racetrack?

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This 'Breaking Bad'-themed racer may or may not have been used for cooking crystal meth.

I couldn't check as it was one of the teams that did so much damage on the track that they didn't manage to get as far as the finish line.

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This Lego team had some incredibly well-made costumes, but they sadly fell too early on in the race for me to capture in action.

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One of the more intricate racers, this steampunk-style horse actually moved and generated steam as it whizzed down the track.

The driver was also mounted inside the mechanical beast, as though on all fours. Terrifying.

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His riding position possibly made his massive crash into the bales of hay at the end all the more unpleasant.

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The bales of hay were so fresh, I managed to find this tiny baby field mouse inside one. It wandered precariously close to the track so I scooped it up to find it a better, much safer home in the nearby woods.

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It's a bold choice to style yourself after Tim Burton's characteristically sinister Willy Wonka.

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Racing really did look like a lot of fun.

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Around 25,000 visitors attended the race. Away from the track, a plethora of food, drink and music was available, with all the carts being displayed beforehand in their non-destroyed states.

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Red Bull might give you wings, but it's helmets that are most critical in the soapbox race.

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This Olaf from 'Frozen' racer seems to be doing whatever snow does in summer.

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Alexandra Palace is the site where the BBC made its first "high-definition" TV broadcast in 1936. This TV-themed cart pays tribute to that.

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This array of GoPro cameras looks like it's filming footage in 360-degrees to later allow you to experience the race on VR headsets.

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Even the Very Hungry Caterpillar took to the track.

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It did not end well for it.

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A man racing a giant strawberry down a hill, being pursued by giant bees isn't normal, but at Red Bull Soapbox race it is.

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