Vegas or Bust: Homemade Vehicles Race for the Finish

by kespeland on October 14, 2008

When you think of race cars, you probably think of a muscular, noisy, advertisement-wrapped, 750 horsepower Dodge V8.

Or perhaps you think of a 1973 El Camino powered by wood chips.

Whichever image comes to mind, you have to hand it to the adventurous–and slightly nutty–competitors in the Escape from Berkeley race. Competitors race from Berkeley to Las Vegas (about a 600 mile drive) in a vehicle that runs on anything but petroleum-based fuels.  The catch?  They can only start out with one gallon of their fuel of choice, and they have to figure out how to find more en route.Runs on a wood-fired burner with steam generator!  Not great for inclement weather, however.

I might have assumed everyone would enter a vegetable oil-powered car, but boy, that would have been narrow-minded.  Sure, there were your typical veggie oil entries. But one used the leftover grease to power a steam engine; another processes said oil on board.  Some entrants carried on-board gasifiers, which can turn nearly any carbon-based material, from branches to grass clippings, into power.  One vehicle carries solar panels to augment pedal-power; another guzzles 190-proof ethanol.

Today, the vehicles are in the home stretch.  Only a few have survived this tough route, which winds through a treacherous mountain pass.  But it will have been worth it: whoever crosses the finish line first gets $5000. This being sponsored by a Berkeley organization, of course, there are some extra awards for:

– Most difficult engineering problem attempted
– Most energy conversion steps between source and road
– Worst idea actually made to kind of work
– Sexiest vehicle on the road
– Worst affront to sensible automotive aesthetics
– Smallest GHG [greenhouse gas] footprint between Berkeley and Vegas

I’d like to suggest that instead of spraying the victory champagne over the crowd, the winners pour it directly into the fuel tank for the return trip.

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