Pabst Blue Ribbon sponsors bike messenger races. Nine Inch Nails uses dark Web sites to illustrate its dark vision of the future and to buttress album sales. And the Red Bull energy drink sponsors people-powered soapbox races.
A quintet of Virginia Commonwealth University students will be among the 40 teams competing in Red Bull's Soapbox contest in Philadelphia. Calling themselves the Fish Stick Frenzy, the quintet of roommates, lead by driver Robert Ramsey, will take the course Sept. 6. True to form, the team is not competing to win, but shooting for third place because members like the bronze prize better — go-karts, not blasAc NASCAR passes.
There will be no test runs and all the races must begin with 30-second skits leading to a launch down a ramp. Speed is only worth one-third of the total score along with style and creativity, so the car is concept-heavy.
The plan is to have Ramsey, who's studying hotel and restaurant management, as a beta fisherman, beat up by the alpha dock rats who eat all his fish sticks and command him to fetch more. He hops into a vehicle decorated to look like a small motorboat in the water. Ramsey casts a line that hooks a cutout fish attached to a gear so that it will bob up and down as the wheels rotate, appearing to tug the cart along the track.
"Our goal is more audience favorability than getting to the bottom of the hill," teammate Steven Harris says.
The group is becoming known for its wacky, over-the-top projects. Members transformed each room of their Oregon Hill house into a different Nintendo game for a party last year — Tetris blocks suspended from the ceiling in the kitchen and a contraption to roll beers down a ramp like Donkey Kong's barrels.