Athens will get in touch with its nominal roots this weekend with the annual chariot race.
The fourth annual Red Bull Chariot Race will kick off the Athens Twilight Criterium weekend with an array of homemade chariots built by University of Georgia students.
Between 14 and 16 teams are expected to battle for the top spot. Last year, more than 5,000 people trickled into the streets of downtown Athens in the largest race Red Bull has put on so far in the community.
Unlike the rest of Twilight, this event is open to amateurs.
“Most of Twilight weekend is just professionals racing through the streets and then this is kind of the chance for your average student to kind of have their 15 minutes of fame and race around and pretend like they’re racing a bike,” said Brandon Nelson, Red Bull campus representative.
The chariot races, which originated in Athens, now take place at college campuses across the nation.
“After we saw the success of it and how much everyone loved it, they started doing it in colleges around the entire U.S.,” Nelson said. “It’s been a huge hit for all the other colleges.”
Nelson said the chariots students create range from well-constructed masterpieces to chariots made from trash cans. Winning the event comes down to having a well-designed chariot, rather than speed.
“There’s some competition, but it’s kind of all about who has the best design and strength ratio because the strongest dudes might not put enough time into their development of it and then their wheel will fall off,” Nelson said. “No matter how fast you are, if your wheels don’t stay on, then you’re not going to really win the race.”
Will Herbert, the captain for his team representing Alpha Kappa Psi, said that he lost the race last year because a wheel fell off the chariot. The chariot his team plans to race this time, called the “Phoenician Galleon,” will resemble last year’s vehicle, but will use a lawnmower axle and wheels instead of a pipe and bicycle wheels.
“We’re back in it to win it this time,” said Herbert, a sophomore management information systems major from Canton. “Last year was a blast, and I hope this year will be even bigger and better.”
Teams are made up of three individuals. The two stronger teammates pull the chariot while the lighter teammate with position himself in the back.
Besides having wheels and a strut, the only two required materials, students can use whatever they want to build their chariot before the races begin. Prohibited materials include fire, sharp spikes and edges and engines.
Friday’s event will begin at 6:30 p.m. on East Clayton Street with a chariot viewing in which attendees can vote for the best-designed chariots. The race will then follow the viewing and teams will compete in brackets until a winner is chosen.
In addition to winning the races, participants have the opportunity to win the “People’s Choice Award.”
Last year, a trio of buff male students wearing tiny swimsuits won this honor.
“They came out in these Speedos and everyone just loved it,” Nelson said. “They thought it was the coolest thing ever, so they ended up winning the ‘People’s Choice,’ which kind of is just as cool as winning the race itself.”
Gus Jacobo, captain of the Classic City Gladiators, will compete in the chariot races this year for the first time but has attended in the past.
“It was awesome,” said Jacobo, a senior marketing major from Dalton. “I think it was a great way to kind of start the weekend. It was fun, lots of energy. It’s just a good time.”
Although every team wants to win, most of the participants simply want to have fun.
“Most people, they just want to do it for the experience and not so much prizes,” Nelson said.
FOURTH ANNUAL RED BULL CHARIOT RACE
WHEN: April 26, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: East Clayton Street
Here is a full schedule of Twilight Criterium events.
Corrections: In a previous version of this article the word fell was misspelled. The Red & Black regrets the error.