If Bart Simpson can race a soapbox, then so can you. If you want all the thrills of speed and competition but without the Formula 1 price tag, then soapbox racing is the way to go. You don’t need an engineering degree, you don’t need a super-professional pit crew, and you don’t even need an engine. All you need is wheels, steering, brakes, a seat and some safety gear, and gravity will take care of most of the rest. Oh, and you might need two spoonfuls of bravery, too.
This guide can give you all the essential information you need to go soapbox racing in the UK. You’ll learn the key factors to consider when building your racer, how to get the most out of the experience, and the essentials that no soapbox team should be without.
Soapbox racing: the basics
Soapbox racing started in the 1930s in the American state of Ohio when a photographer for a local paper invited youngsters to build homemade motorless vehicles and compete against each other. The idea spread like wildfire, and within a few years, there were thousands of father-and-son teams racing all sorts of contraptions in their local towns, and even purpose-built tracks for national-level events.
Today, it’s still considered a core part of traditional American culture and a rite of passage for many kids growing up. But its popularity has spread all over the world, thanks in no small part to its simplicity: build a vehicle that’s powered only by gravity and get it down the course faster than anybody else. While different events will have variations of rules in place – such as whether racers compete on their own against the clock, or against each other wheel-to-wheel – the basic concept is essentially the same.
Building a soapbox racing car
The rules surrounding soapbox vehicle construction are normally fairly basic, but you should check for any specifics for individual events before you start. Things to consider include the following:
– Chassis: this needs to be solid enough to support the hazards on the course and the weight of the driver
– Bodywork: damage in soapbox races is commonplace, so try to avoid anything expensive or difficult to replace
– Wheels and suspension: strong wheels and excellent suspension are a must on any courses that have jumps
– Steering: this can be either a traditional steering wheel set-ups or cable-pulled like the steering on a bobsleigh
– Braking: don’t forget you’ll have to stop in a hurry when you cross the finish line!
– Design: artwork and the overall look is often a scoring part of events, to try to come up with something eye-catching
Entering soapbox races in the UK
Probably the most famous soapbox event in the UK is the Red Bull Soapbox Race, which is traditionally held once every two years, down the hill from Alexandra Palace in north London.. It attracts thousands of fans and extensive TV coverage all over the world and is the biggest draw for countless ambitious soapbox builders and racers. Indeed, in 2017, Team Brooklands Special developed their vintage-style racer and took out one of our insurance policies, and went on to become overall winners!
However, all that popularity makes it notoriously difficult to get an entry: thousands of crews apply each time, and typically only 70 are chosen. Unless you have a proven soapbox track record or are affiliated with a business or charity, you may find it very difficult to get a place.
Alternatively, there are plenty of far more accessible soapbox events taking place across the UK every year. If you’re in the north of England, for example, check out the Super Soapbox Challenge, which runs several events every year on both sides of the Pennines. If you want to get involved with the sport long-term, this can give you a consistent tour to follow
Key things to remember
While you might want to focus fully on the acts of building and racing your soapbox, there are a few other things to bear in mind along the way.
The first, and perhaps the most important, is to have fun. Soapbox racing isn’t intended to be a serious sport where winning is everything: it’s much more about having a laugh and getting together with your friends and co-workers. Across the whole process, keep the light-hearted, crazy spirit in mind and try to be more Mad Max than Max Verstappen!
The second point is to get creative: you may never get a better chance to do something completely off the wall and develop something that’s truly unique. Many soapbox events (including the Red Bull races) place just as much importance on creativity as they do on speed, so don’t be afraid to sacrifice some performance in the name of expression.
However, one thing that you certainly shouldn’t compromise on is safety. Soapbox racing can be a dangerous sport: after all, it boils down to homemade racing machines speeding down hills with sometimes questionable brakes. Make sure you take all reasonable precautions before you test and race, including safety gear and good-quality insurance, and check with event organisers for any specific safety rules before you start your build.
Get soapbox racing insurance from SportsCover Direct
As soapbox racing can be hazardous, putting comprehensive insurance in place is essential. At SportsCover Direct, we’re one of the only insurers in the UK that provides specific cover for soapbox racers of all abilities (and levels of ambition!).
Our policies include any medical rehab costs that you incur as a result of an injury while racing; personal liability insurance in the event that you accidentally cause an injury to someone else or damage property; and income protection that compensates you for any work you miss as a result of an injury while racing.
Our cover is affordable and flexible and is a small price to pay for peace of mind when you launch off the start ramp. Take a more detailed look at our soapbox racing insurance here.