THERE ARE many Americans who firmly believe it ain’t worth doin’ unless you can do it on a barstool.
And that includes speeding across the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Welcome to the world of barstool racing, a singularly American pursuit where men are men, and women are even faster.
It’s a curious subculture of gearheads who rig go-carts with barstools, then tool around without losing their seat. YouTube has hundreds of videos of the rigs, while online forums allow fans to share tips on building the contraptions. Why? That’s not a question you’d ask when you’re zipping down the street with your butt firmly plunked on a Naugahyde cushion. It goes without saying, there’s a bit of drinking involved.
Indeed, an Ohio man was arrested and charged with drunken driving last year after crashing his gas-powered barstool on a city street. He reportedly told police his barstool could reach 38 mph.
He has a long way to go to match the mark recognized by the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association. That’s right, the same organization that certifies the world records of those bulletlike rocket cars has a separate, official classification for barstool racing.
Top speed: 53.557 mph.
It doesn’t sound particularly fast until you realize we’re talking about little more than a chair on four wheels, with no real protection for the occupant. Under USFRA rules, racers must sit on a real barstool that’s at least 31 inches high. To keep speeds down, the racers are powered by a maximum 12-volt battery.
One other thing: That world record was set last year by a woman – and she was stone-cold sober.
The feat began as a brainstorm by a medical-equipment engineer named Joe Marietta, who realized that barstool racing was “the cheapest, easiest way I could think of to get a land-speed record. “
Marietta and Doug Lorraine, a co-worker at Innovative Medical Device Solutions in Logan, Utah, somehow managed to convince their CEO that designing a very fast barstool would be an excellent team-building activity. Plus, it would be really cool to show off at medical conventions.
Their racer was built for speed: A chromoly chassis, custom-made aluminum wheels and other components machined by students at a local community college. They found a restaurant supplier online and asked for the lightest barstool.
Then they looked around the office and spotted Karen Mohr, a 29-year-old product-development engineer who’s about 5-foot-4, 125 pounds. She’d make a great rider, they whispered. “It was kind of hard to understand what they were talking about until they showed me some pictures,” Mohr said. “My first question was, ‘How fast are we talking? ‘ “
An experienced cyclist, she’d topped 40 mph on downhill rides.
But there was a problem, she realized: The barstool makes the racer top-heavy. On one test run at an abandoned airport runway, she blew a tire. “I bobbled around, but it didn’t crash,” she said. “I learned very quickly you have to be as still as possible. “
Out on the Salt Flats, however, it was smooth riding. Crouched over the handlebars like Lance Armstrong on a steep decline, Mohr got a push from her teammates, then rocketed across the course.
The official timekeeper notified the team she’d broken the previous record of 49.9 mph, but it would take a second run to make it official. The only problem: the motor was red hot. Someone grabbed an ice-cold sixpack of Olympia and set it on the casing.
“The beer cooled it right off,” Marietta said, and the second run went into the record books.
Next Friday and Saturday, the team will return to the Salt Flats and try to beat their own world record. You better believe they’re already icing down the beer.