Hampdenfest racers ride toilets to victory

Neighborhood celebration takes scatology to high velocity

September 11, 2010|By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun

The rear axle came from a Honda that gave its last gasp 30 years ago. The front once belonged to a go-cart. But with this vehicle, the story's in all the body — a standard, flushable toilet, complete with a transparent seat dotted with coins.

"I've had that toilet seat for like 10 years, waiting for something to do with it," laughs Alex Tasi, who, on Saturday, finally found it.

The 42-year-old installer of solar panels from Annapolis was part of a small field of competitors that made dubious Baltimore history by participating in the first Hampdenfest Toilet Races, in which folks could ride anything down the course — as long as it included a "human defecation device."

Tasi winkingly called his entry Formula No. 2.

Crowds— more than willing to be in on the joke — lined the short stretch of Chestnut Avenue for the drag-race-style event, a delightfully irreverent blending of adrenalin, scatology and neighborhood pride. John Waters should like this — very much.

Fans called from the sidelines, coming up with an extraordinary number of bathroom puns as the racers squared off, two by two.

With names like Porcelain Pirate, Toilet Trainer and Golden Throne, most of the entries were built around everyday toilets, even though Steve Baker, a Hampden metal artist who conceived the competition, said anything from port-a-potties to bed pans to adult diapers would qualify for the race.

Powered by nothing more than gravity and a push from their teammates, the toilet crafts, some more solid than others, veered and swerved down Chestnut Street, steered by captains who maneuvered them — for the most part — past onlookers, potholes and some unfortunately parked cars. The winner of each heat was the first to plow into a wall of hay built in the middle of the street.

As the less sturdy crafts rolled down the course, they lost wheels, gushed toilet water and littered the street with bits of cracked porcelain.

Baker, who had wanted to bring toilet racing to Baltimore after seeing something similar in Philadelphia years ago, thought it would be a way to bring even more quirky nuance to Hampdenfest. A facial hair contest apparently wasn't enough.

"I wanted something that people could actually get out and do," Baker explained. "Something kind of Hampden."

The racers obliged, adding flair to their vehicles with streams of toilet paper, bubble machines, and handles made of toilet bowl brushes. Camilo Williamson attached a bottle of Drano to his and took to the course with a plunger stuck onto his helmet.

"It's a great way to embrace and indulge in all that is Hampden," said John W. Behle of Owings Mills, who happily stood at the side of the course, advising one team, "You don't want to come out here and just tank."

"This is swimming in Hampden," he continued. "This is a buffet of Hampden."

Behle had his eye on a yellow entrant with, a racer built around a Nixon-era ochre toilet with its seat painted a shimmering gold. A good bet, it turns out.

The aptly named Golden Throne, driven by George Peters, eventually triumphed, rolling into first place.

After it was all over, Peters, who sits on the board of the neighborhood's community council and repairs bikes in his spare time, said he designed his vehicle for speed, forging each wheel by hand. His inspiration and model was the soap box derby cars of the early 1900s.

Peters was proud to take home the top prize and even prouder to help inaugurate what he thinks will become a Baltimore classic.

"Everybody did their own thing, being as creative as they wanted to be," he said. "That's why it's so Hampden."

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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