Pick 6 - Editors Picks from Past Week

Friday, Aug 15 2014 10:15 AM

HERB BENHAM: These guys are ready to get on their soapbox

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    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Chris Ennis put the grinder together before starting the evening's work on their soap box racer.

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    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Nolan Graf talks about his work on the soap box racer Wednesday evening.

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    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Chris Ennis, right, and Nolan Graf work on their soap box racer in Ennis' garage Wednesday evening.

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  4. 4 of 7

    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Nolan Graf works on the steering wheel of the soap box racer Wednesday evening.

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    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Chris Ennis cuts through metal while working on the soap box racer Wednesday evening.

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    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Nolan Graf works on the steeling Wednesday evening.

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    By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

    Nolan Graf, left, Jason Love, center, and Chris Ennis take a break from working on their soap box racer Wednesday evening.

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BY HERB BENHAM Californian columnist hbenham.com

I drank my first Red Bull while interviewing Chris Ennis, Nolan Graf, Jason Love and Eric Santos in a hot Rosedale garage a week ago, and I’ve been up ever since.

But Red Bull’s stimulating effects have certainly come in handy for the four friends, who are in the final stretch of strapping and bolting together a racer that resembles a hot-sauce bottle tipped on its side for the Red Bull Soapbox Race in Seattle scheduled for Aug. 24. Among 35 teams competing, the quartet was selected by Red Bull as the team most likely to win over the crowd.

Having edged ahead with  raw flair in the personality part of the contest, the team that has dubbed itself “Srirachas Before Muchachas” must now roll like greased lightning, exhibit showmanship and excel in car design in order to win.

Their soapbox racer will resemble a bottle of the popular Sriracha sauce tipped on its side. This could be one fast bottle of hot sauce, with speeds projected to hit 40 miles per hour over the 1,500-foot course.

“We’ve never built a car before,” Love said about the process that’s consumed a couple of weekends, several 24-packs of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and many bags of Chicharrónes pork rinds.

Santos — he’s driving and his fellow Srirachas will give him a small push — is not worried.

“It’s not the chariot. It’s the driver.”

The Red Bull race is a hot ticket. In 2007 (the last time the event was held in Seattle), 40,000 spectators watched the race on Yesler Way, whose steep grade is necessary for the gravity-powered cars. Nobody’s in it for the prizes (first prize is a trip to the Red Bull Air Race Las Vegas) but rather for the crazed fun of scrapping together a soapbox racer without spending any real money.

This means borrowing, “stealing,” and if you have to, buying the parts. The Srirachas bought three large pieces of sheet metal  for about $200 for the body but then scavenged wheels from bikes bought off Craigslist and metal tubing from Ennis’ dad. The steering assembly came from an old go-kart Ennis had lying around, and another friend donated both the paint and painting.

 “I had to learn how to weld,” said Ennis, who races go-karts and sprint cars on the weekend. “With all my car-racing experience, I had never done it.”

The Srirachas will be wearing chicken suits during the race that cost $500 but even those were purchased by pharmacist and friend Liz Altmiller, who gets a kick out of their antics.

Speaking of antics, the team has come up with some interesting nicknames: Santos is “Sir Racha Roosterbillingsly,” Ennis is “Slips and Giggles,” Love,“The Sex Pistol,” and Graf is — well — his nickname is just a little racy for many of our readers.

The Srirachas are not just  late 20s and early 30s party boys. They have grownup jobs. Santos is an environmental compliance inspector, Ennis and Love are project managers for Skarphol Associates, and Graf handles hazardous waste for the Bureau of Land Management.

Responsible jobs, but not ones that prepared them for building a soapbox racer. They’ve talked friends and neighbors into being guest welders, guest fabricators and guest gofers.

“You have to be a little wacky to do this,” Ennis said.

“We’re good at that and our friends have gotten in the spirit of the race.”

Next week, the Srirachas will be joined by 12 friends from Bakersfield who will caravan with them to Seattle. They will ham it up, have fun and win. Even if they don’t finish first.

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