Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race – Port Townsend, Washington - Atlas Obscura
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Port Townsend, Washington

Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race

Quirky movable sculptures have been racing through the town since 1983. 

Started in 1983, the Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race in Washington is an annual race of movable sculptures, or as the race organizers like to call them, “kinetically inspired dream machines.” The race, one of several held around the world, is the third oldest in the United States and is part of a long tradition of kinetic sculpture races.

The first race happened almost by accident. In 1969 Ferndale, California artist Hobart Brown decided to make a few adjustments to his son’s tricycle. The “fix” resulted in a brand new vehicle, a pentacycle, which Brown parked in front of his gallery. Another local artist, Jack Mays, spotted Brown’s work, decided to make his own moveable sculpture, and then challenged Brown to a race.

Word spread, several other artists joined in, and the race was on. Neither Mays nor Brown won, but they’d started something big. Over the years, race courses have evolved from the early days and now include water and mud elements.

The rules of the Port Townsend race are pretty simple. Racers must construct a “human powered, artistically enhanced vehicle that must go through sand (Kwick Sand), mud (The Dismal Bog), float on water (The Great Bay), and transverse hilly, silly neighborhoods.” The course takes racers all around Port Townsend, including along the waterfront. It’s not all about the race, though.

The event is a full weekend of costumes, creations, and characters. The day begins with a parade through downtown Port Townsend and ends with the coronation of the Rosehip Kween, a year-long honor bestowed upon the contestant who can best tell a joke, share a recipe, and demonstrate a talent. The winner also has to be able to handle “hundreds of weird people will bow to you with the Kinetic Chicken salute.”

The next day, racers meet back downtown to perform a song for the crowd before starting the second portion of the course, each hoping to win the event’s most coveted award, the Mediocrity Award. This award goes to the racer whose sculpture finishes in the middle. Each year’s race is themed, with the most recent being Kinetic Goes Kosmik. The race organizers as a fun and creative event that retains some of the quirky independence of that very first kinetic sculpture race.