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What Happened to the Power Tool Drag Races?

Updated: Jun 18


2019 participants, photo by Amy Horn

At the 19th annual Georgetown Carnival on June 8, many attendees stopped by the Gazette booth to ask, “Where are the Power Tool Drag Races?” The raucous public contest that sends power-tool-driven mini race vehicles down a track (trailed by their own power cords) was missing! We didn’t have a good answer, so we went looking for one. The short answer appears to be bad faith and poor communication between the carnival organizers and the race organizers, which resulted in a less gritty and more wholesome than usual carnival this year.

The Georgetown Business Association (GBA, formerly Georgetown Merchants Association) organizes the Carnival top to bottom, wrangling funding, permits, volunteers, vendors, and entertainment for the one-day event. Hazard Factory, a welding and industrial arts school in South Park, has traditionally run the Power Tool Drag Races as part of the carnival. The public is invited to enter anything built from a handheld power tool on a chassis with wheels that can run down a plywood track on 110v power. Trackside volunteers operate safety switches and ensure the track is clear for each race. The audience watches from behind fencing, and winners in each heat progress until final trophies are awarded. It’s rowdy, it’s loud, and the rewards inherent in building one of these machines are almost as great as the glory of winning, according to past participants.  



The races have been a big participant and spectator draw for the carnival since 2007. So why were there no races at the most recent carnival? The GBA declined to discuss the issue with the Gazette, but the Gazette did did talk with Rusty Oliver, owner and "chief lunatic" at Hazard Factory. Oliver says for the first time this year, the GBA asked if he would be willing to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (legal agreement) on behalf of the races. Although he never saw a proposed agreement, he suspected it would restrict some elements of the performance art, including whether volunteers were allowed to drink onsite. “We could never get a specific document from them,” he said, “but we were willing to have a conversation about it. We asked a lot of questions. The event producer did not want to have a constructive conversation.” Citing lack of collaboration and clear communication, Oliver got frustrated and pulled the races from the carnival in March. “I hoped someone from GBA would reach out and try to patch things up,” he said. “It was disappointing that no one did.”

Now the Power Tool Drag Races are looking for an indoor venue; preferably a space they could use for an extended engagement. The track requires 80 feet of linear space and good sightlines. If you have a lead on a building that could host the races, reach out to Hazard Factory.

 

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