The "Kinetinaut" pilots came from as far as Pittsburgh for a 13-mile test of wills that blended home-grown art with human-powered engines.
In craft made mainly from bicycles, gears and flotation devices, they rolled yesterday through the streets of Baltimore, negotiated the muck of the Mud Dump Gulch and rode the high seas of the Inner Harbor.
After more than five hours, they helped prove the following point: Creative genius can be found just about anywhere, including in defeat.
Six teams participated in the first East Coast National Championship Human-Powered All-Terrain Kinetic Sculpture Race, on land, at sea and through mud, sponsored by the American Visionary Art Museum.
"If [Leonardo] da Vinci were alive today, he would enter this race," said Hobart Brown, 65, an artist who created the concept for the sculpture race 30 years ago. While tinkering with his son's tricycle, he transformed it into a 7-foot-tall contraption that so intrigued friends they challenged him to a race.
Yesterday's contest was one of the main events at the Baltimore Waterfront Festival at the Inner Harbor, which concludes today with a mix of music, comedy and exhibits.
The festival, which also featured yacht racing and a rowing regatta, was packed with kids licking ice cream cones and couples holding hands.
A three-piece Dixieland band played tunes while visitors tasted traditional Maryland fare: crab cakes, mini-crab cakes, crab cake sandwiches and, of course, crab soup.
The Sculpture Race, which began with a safety brake check and a mock "Blessing of the Vehicles" at the Visionary Art Museum, drew a crowd of curious onlookers when the first craft neared the finish at Harborplace.
The winner of the "Speed Award" was a three-man team -- the Chainsaw Wilburs -- that piloted a craft named Desolate Forest. They finished an hour and 15 minutes ahead of the closest competitor, the Junkyard Beavers.
Desolate Forest consisted of a dirty green rowboat decorated with dead branches from one of the pilots' back yards and stuffed animals from a local thrift store.
"We got really berated because we were so far ahead," said pilot Brian Garrett, 25, of Baltimore County. "But that's not a complaint."
The Chainsaw Wilburs, who were promoting wildlife preservation, collected "penalties" along the race course for just about everything -- even being in the lead.
One official issued a ticket for having a stuffed moose dangling off the back of the craft, so Garrett relocated the animal inside.
Another official issued a ticket for having the moose inside the craft, so Garrett put it back out.
In this race, which even had rules for spectators, penalties were coveted: To win, you almost had to lose.
The "Next to the Last Award" went to a craft called Ruby the Red Dragon, whose pilots included Mark Ward, the deputy director/exhibition design at the Visionary Art Museum.
That award, combined with scores for artistic merit and engineering prowess, helped the Red Dragon win the championship, making it eligible for the World Championship Kinetic Sculpture Race, a three-day, three-city event beginning this month in Ferndale, Calif.
Other awards included the "Golden Dinosaur Award" for the first, or most memorable, breakdown, which went to the Bartmobile. The two-man contraption busted a wheel rim trying to negotiate the mud pit and never recovered.
The "Worst Honorable Mention," for the sculpture whose "half-baked `engineering' did not deter its pilot from the challenge of the race," went to the Dumpster Divers, a team from Philadelphia that also won the "Best Bribes Award."
Bribes for race officials were expected. Offerings included stuffed animals, plastic figurines of cartoon characters, Monopoly money and other worthless items.
The much-coveted "Mediocre Award" went to the Junkyard Beavers, twin sisters from Pittsburgh.
Across the harbor, sportsmen were gearing up for a more serious and more elegant race: the Inner Harbor Invitational.
The 500-meter exhibition regatta, sponsored by the Baltimore Rowing Club, included teams from the Annapolis Rowing Club and local colleges and universities.
"It's strength, it's grace, it's balance, it's teamwork," said Barbara Nix, 28, a competitor from Annapolis.
Physical -- not to mention mental -- preparation was key: Having consumed their carbohydrate-rich pasta dinners the night before, rowers filled up yesterday on bagels, Powerbars, peanut butter and bananas -- which help eliminate the lactic acid that builds up in tired leg muscles.
At the sculpture race, Rebecca Hoffberger, founder and director of the Visionary Art Museum, scoffed in jest at the regatta as a "lesser race."
Not that she doesn't admire the rowers' skill. "I'm hoping some of those guys with those great knee muscles will be converted" to sculpture racers, she said.
Pub Date: 5/02/99