In 1933, Dayton Daily News newspaper photographer Myron Scott of Dayton, Ohio had covered a race of boy-built cars in his home community and was so taken with the idea that he acquired rights to the event; the national-scale Soap Box Derby grew out of this idea. In 1934, Scott had managed to persuade fifty cities across the United States to hold soap box car races and send a champion each to Dayton for a major race, later held in Akron. Today's soapbox racing is still about first to the stripe, however, soapbox cars in recent years have hit speeds in the 50's. Thus, the gravity racers were born. Todays soapbox derby cars have come light years in design and inprovements and even have spawned an extreme class.
The Gravity Formula One Cars
In September, 1990, Hickey and a friend, Don Baumea, started tinkering with the idea of new type of race car. Borrowing from go-cart technology and bobsled design, the 33-year-old Hickey created Gravity Formula One--a motorless race car with the looks of a Grand Prix racer but without the deafening engine roar. Gravity Formula 1 was born and Hickey promoted a small racing series. Hickey was series champion numerous years. The GF1 racing series would end in 2006. Now, the cars now are highly sought after as collectibles by the gravity world. Very few are known to remain in existence. Although not designed as a flat out speed machine, in 2014 the machine proved it might be just that. Southern Californian speed merchant, Donnie Schoettler (USA) had purchased a Hickey GF1 car in early 2014, After updating the steering and chassis and some testing, that summer, Fast Donnie Schoettler took his Atom Splitter out and put up a mind boggling 88 mph reading on his onboard GPS that day in the Sierra's! Schoettler had just become a major player in the gravity speed game along with becoming the world's fastest (unofficial) gravity car. Schoettler's pass also proved that Hickey and Baumea knew exactly how to build a wicked fast gravity machine. A side note , Roger Hickey had claimed to have been clocked at 91.547 mph in a GF1 car, however, no documentation has ever been submitted. In 2016, Fast Donnie would drive his GF1 car over 100 mph at the L'Ultime Descente in Canada.
Xtreme Gravity Racing Series
In 2000, the Xtreme Gravity Racing Series was started in Southern California. By 2006, the series had corporate involvement along with the automotive industry and design sponsorship. Major automotive companies spent thousands on research and development. Cars like Nissan, Volvo, and many others were absolutely phenomenal in design and execution. Still, the runs were only timed. However radar guns showed one car had a brush with 60 mph. To the dismay of the gravity scene, the cars were never really taken out to a big bad hill where they could stretch their legs and show their true performance. Sadly, the cars were auctioned off at Barrett/Jackson never to be see in public again. One of the cars, the 2005 Bentley Zen-Green, sold for $68,200. Below are just a few that competed in the XGR Series.
The Gravity Car Speed Racing Scene
In the UK, gravity racer derbies had recently become more popular, brought to the masses by large events such as the Red Bull races and a race that was held between 2000 and 2004 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Now, many small hilly communities organized their own races, such as the Catterline Cartie Challenge in Scotland and the Belchford Downhill Challenge in Lincolnshire, and there are now several dozen known races across the UK. Gravity car road racing has been going on throughout the world for quite some time. 50 and 60 mph speeds were considered fast during the turn of the century. For the most part, events are about elapsed time or duals to see who is first to cross the stripe at the bottom. There had never really been any emphasis on strictly MPH recordings. Nobody had really made it a point to up the speed until 2011. Stephen Thomas of the UK, while piloting his beautiful C12 missile, had touched 70 mph at the 2011 Caingorm gravity road race that was quite impressive. Throughout the rest a the world, gravity road race groups such as, A.I.G.R.F., M.I.S.F.I.T.S., N.U.D.R.S., and others were running race series throughout the year. Steve Weem's S.U.C.K.E.R. group ran the fastest road racing series in the world, with speeds in the 70's commonplace and several courses producing big numbers in the 80's.
In the summer of 2011, an American gravity car road racer/ race promoter of the Southern California's S.U.C.K.E.R. group, named Steve Weems, became the first to really push the speed envelope, becoming one of the first true gravity car speed merchants. Weems put the gravity car world on notice serving up a blistering 74.2 mph GPS speed run in the California Sierra's becoming a WGSA GPS-70 member. Weems went on to go even faster, pushing that speed up even further into the high 70's later that year. He would later go on to eventually make it into the 80's. Weems unknowingly, with his 74 mph pass, had just made the first run of the great gravity car speed race of the 21st century. The race was now on!
In 2012, another American came along, Doug Anderson (USA) of Bodrodz Xtreme Gravity Racing from Atlanta GA. Anderson, who had been involved with street luge building and racing, took notice and was very impressed with Weems speed accomplishment. In 2011, Anderson set out to go faster and started building the Atomic Splinter that winter. Anderson was the first to pilot his car, the Atomic Splinter, thru the 80 mph barrier with an 84.4 mph GPS speed! By the end of 2014, Donnie Schoettler (USA) and Ed Bryant (USA), had become members of the WGSA GPS-80 club. Steve Weems (USA) and Scott Bassett (USA) were also now running in the 80's. And Guy Martin (UK) had set the first certified Guinness world record at 85.6 mph.
2014 Ultimate Gravity Speed Challenge
Bodrodz Xtreme Gravity Racing hosted the 2014 Ultimate Speed Challenge that was an ongoing speed event that finished up on July 31, 2014. What had started out as friendly bet, morphed into an event that was to acknowledge GPS gravity car speeds for the year with proper documentation from anywhere in the world. The outcome of the event surprised everyone. The event was won by Doug Anderson (USA) with only an 84 mph pass, 2nd when to Ed Bryant (USA) 82.5 mph followed by Donnie Schoettler (USA) 81 mph, another S.U.C.K.E.R. driver. The event had come down to the wire and the top three entrants were all plagued with some type of problem or another in the end . Anderson conceding that the Splinter would most likely be at the bottom of the top three. The car compared to the other contenders, was aerodynamically inferior. Anderson could no longer wait for his thin air day, decided to make his run. Flat out, 84 was all he could squeeze out of the Splinter in the moderately thick air and knew that it probably wouldn't be enough to hang onto top mph. Bryant, who was piloting the twitchy, ill handling Bodrodz Bullet, had been fighting steering issues all day, decided to take a shot at the Challenge and tip-toed the Bullet down the hill at a cautious 82.5 mph at sundown. The Vegas odds were on Schoettler to win. Schoettler who had made two 88 mph runs in the last month of the Challenge, only to be disappointed, having to settle for an earlier 81 mph pass because of documentation errors which disqualified the taller runs. The first 88 mph run, Schoettler was in his older car, a documentation error denied the run. Then driving his new GF1 car, the Atom Splitter, it to also ran a stout 88 mph pass out of the box in the last week of the Challenge, only to have a video failure, again robbing him of first place. Thou finishing third, Schoettler had made it known, he was VERY FAST and a true contender for a world record. Not to leave out any other entries, Isaac Newton of North Whales, UK turned in a very impressive 63.5 mph on only a 7% grade! Surprisingly, there where no other drivers to step up to the plate and make any speed postings from around the world, And so ended the 2014 Ultimate Speed Challenge.
The First Gravity Car World Record?
Ultimately, in late 2014, the first certified gravity racer world record was set by Guy Martin of the UK. Martin recorded a certified speed by Guinness World Records of 85.6 mph. That same day, Martin tried to up the speed by adding weight, only to loose control of the car in the shutdown process. The ensuing crash caused major damage to the car. Martin was able to walk away and was unhurt in the accident. The speed was quite an accomplishment since the car was built in only 4 months time. However, there still is some controversy about the run being a pure gravity speed record because of Martin's starting roll off , which was aided by the push of two women with bobsled team training. Granted, there were no gravity car rules in place and the Martin team basically set the rules for future Guinness gravity car record attempts. The WGSA does not recognize the speed as a world record because of the human assisted start voiding the run as a pure gravity only record.
Gravity Car Eclipses The Century Mark and Sets New Records!
On Sept 9 - 11 2016, the gravity car speed world changed dramatically. New records were set and a gravity car went thru the 100 mph barrier. On a road in Quebec, Canada, the 2016 L'Ultime Descente Ultimate Speed Challenge took place. By invitation, Bodrodz Xtreme Gravity Racing was in attendance with three cars. Doug Anderson, Donnie Schoettler, and Scott Holsenback would pilot the cars at the event.
Holsenback driving the Bodrodz Bullet, had encountered a handling issue that would only get worse as the speed increased. The car had been untested before the challenge after major body aero work had been done. The new aero work had induced a handling issue. Holsenback commented " this thing is just like driving on ice at speed. We've got a real problem". Frustrated, Scott managed to pilot the car to a WGSA 200 Limited CWC (closed wheel canopy) class record of 115.71 km/h 71.89 mph before the team threw in the towel on the Bullet The car would be before sidelined for the rest of the event.
Anderson would wheel the Bodrodz Atomic Splinter to 148.94 km/h 92.55 mph at the event. This would be Anderson's career best and the fastest the Splinter had gone. Anderson was happy with the car performance and conceded that's all it had in it because of it's dimensions and aero package. The Bodrodz Atomic Splinter has since been retired.
Doug Anderson driving the Atomic Splinter. The car would run 92.55 mph at it's best.
Holsenback stopping the ill handling Bodrodz Bullet
Fast Donnie Schoettler driving his GF1 car would upset the gravity car speed world running over 97 mph right out of the box setting a new Guinness world record. Guinness rules allow a human assisted push at the start. Schoettler, driving under the Guinness gravity car rules, now would chase the 100 MPH barrier. Friday's speed session ended with the car just two miles per hour short of the Century Club and wondering if it was going to be possible. A higher baro predicted for the next day was not going to help. Bodrodz team members of the UK, Steve Thomas, along with Andy Ash and Jono Moore, worked their aero magic on Saturday and history would be made. Fast Donnies first run would produce 160.38 km/h 99.65 mph with rear aero work. Steve and teammates would go to work on the cockpit area and the rest is history. Schoettler would pilot his car thru the beams clocking 162.60 km/h 101.03, the final reset of the Guinness Gravity Car World Record and he would become the second member of the WGSA 100 Club.
Now Schoettler, newest member of the elite WGSA 100 MPH Club (Guinness rules) and the new Guinness World Record Holder under his belt, he would now concentrate on setting the WGSA 200 Limited CW (closed wheel) class record on Sunday. The Sundays weather proved to be far less than favorable for a record attempt. A cold front with wind and rain blasted thru that night leaving behind wicked headwinds and crosswinds down the course. Fast Donnie managed to set a WGSA class record of 155.67 km/h 96.72 mph while being blown all over the road on the way down. Schoettler now has his future sights set on a 100 mph WGSA record.
Bodrodz "Fast Donnie" Schoettler