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09/17/05 POWER 0N

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Fri, Sep 23, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

POWER ON

By JOHN GRAFMAN

Serving my time at college opened my eyes to all kinds of revolutionary ideas. One of my favorite means of traversing this sprawling campus was by means of skateboard. The school is one giant smooth slab of concrete with few expansion joints and a slight, gentle slope that nearly eliminates the need for physical exertion.

Speed is easy to obtain under these conditions. This got me thinking, do we really need gas powered cars at all? Back then, that kind of radical student behavior could lead to revolutions, jail time or worse.

A few decades later, we find the country searching for some better ideas. Along comes Don Macalister and the Extreme Gravity Racing Series. Don combines the best in competition, exploration, community involvement, and support for a worthy cause all in one tidy package.

Just weeks before at Monterey, the race series earned the respect of many during the week of the Pebble Beach Concours. Now at Shady Canyon in Irvine on a perfect late summer Saturday morning, gravity racing comes back down to Southern California. This is home to many design studios. It's also a hotbed of automotive racing companies, as well as the birthplace of many legendary racing figures.

Racing is divided into three categories: kids, corporate series, and the automotive companies. Each grouping provides a stimulating opportunity in competing. This provides a chance for the kids to become involved with a program that provides a stepping-stone to their future. The corporate series not only provides funds to the foster child program, but also becomes a teambuilding event that pits them against other like-minded companies.

In the corporate series, Bentley takes the gold with a winning time on the course at 46.3 seconds. Second place goes to CarCrazyCentral.com (47.27 seconds down half mile hill), and third to Greenlight Financial (48.00). Win or otherwise, the participants keep their purpose-built vehicles - designed by either Bentley or Pininfarina. Not a bad parting gift.

The automotive companies are another matter. Pride is at stake in this race series. There is no big purse at stake or sponsorship from a detergent company or cigarette company. No, carmakers are involved because they love it.

How competitive is this? Volkswagen edges out Nissan and Volvo by less than a quarter second over a half mile downhill course. Nissan manages the fastest posted time at 52.38 mph.

As this series grows, and the head of the design studios are there along with the other design studio employees, one wonders if they see the possibilities. Is there life beyond non-renewable fuels to power transportation? Will we see something more come from this in the years to come?

Crazier things have been known to happen. For now, Don is happy to help support the foster children's program. If he happens to coincidently change future transportation for the better, I think he might see it as a nice little side bonus. Give that guy a medal! - John Grafman

SIDEBAR

I hadn't even heard of Extreme Gravity Racing. I find out it's a black sheep form of what I know as soapbox derby racing. What I experience at the event goes well beyond any soapbox derby.

The Gravity Series is home to professionals that take this thing seriously. Companies like General Motors, Audi, Volvo, and Nissan are all here - and they all came to race.

The day starts with a corporate class of races that all have similar body styles. Local companies sponsor some of these cars, and they all wear the same Pininfarina or Bentley designed shells. These cars are impressive. Moving down the hill at a top speed of around 35 mph isn't too bad when you consider that there is no source of thrust beyond that of gravity. Unfortunately, these cars are a not of the same caliber as the racers that the major automotive companies brought.

From what I see, the Volvo car was one of the fastest of the day, setting quick times and clocking in at speeds upwards of 50 mph. Wow, that is fast! A vehicle that doesn't even come up to my knees and has no power source, beyond the fact that it is rolling down hill, just flies by me at freeway speeds. Incredible.

Unlike the corporate race series where everything ias designed to be more or less the same, the factory prototype cars perform and look completely different. The Audi, Volkswagen, and Volvo cars, for example, all hide their wheels under the bodywork, making them look very much like bullets flying down the hill. Maybe the most outrageous car, by way of design, is the one built by Nissan. Unlike every other car there, it had no raised portion or windshield for the driver. The "hull" of this canoe-shaped vehicle was constructed of lightly tinted, clear panels. All the team does is place a lid on top of the driver, sealing him inside before the race, and he then proceeds down the hill in a luge-type fashion.

Though these races are quite a spectacle of speed, design, and engineering, I have trouble with the cars' eerie silence. The lack of sound gives them an almost organic quality as they zip past. It's like watching a very fast track meet. The runners are swift, but there is no sense beyond sight to help capture the feeling. The competitive racing aspect is almost lost because the mind interprets the silent motion to be a nonevent. There is no low, bass tone of a V-8 moving by, nor any heart-stopping, violent tidal wave of sound as produced by top fuel dragsters.

For the first time, I watch in amazement as a small vehicle silently cruises past at a quick clip. The Extreme Gravity Series is truly that - home to the ultimate silent screamers. - Scott Reynolds

For more please go to www.gravityseries.com

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