In the failing sunlight, translucent puffs of breath cloud the reflective surface of a nail gun, as designer Corey Cocker’s gloved hands move quickly and dexterously to finish the frame of the CSU team’s soapbox racer, set to take to the street at the Red Bull Soapbox Race Saturday.
In the background, the not-so-fresh beats of not-quite rap legend Will Smith pound out of the handheld stereo system, lying among the clutter that is Cocker’s garage and currently doubles as Team Green Machine’s assembly line.
Their racer — a motley, Frankensteinian assembly of chicken wire, plywood, cardboard, “dubiously acquired street sign tubing” and “adrenaline,” dubbed the Green Machine — is just beginning to become a hint of the giant ram it will eventually resemble.
This weekend, the finished craft will set off for the finish line at Red Rocks Park in Golden, Colo. fully decorated with fur, horns and, of course, some green and gold.
“I’m excited about driving that thing at 30 miles an hour down a hill and trying not to die,” said Todd Pashak, the CSU biomedical engineering student turned soon-to-be soapbox driver (and possible human projectile), grinning.
The ram will scream down the 1,500 foot hay bail-lined course, its nostrils fuming angrily with carbon dioxide smoke, with Pashak and his copilot Rob Zimmer screaming inside of it.
Meanwhile, watching from the sideline, Cocker and his fellow designer, Logan Gamble, will be praying that the brakes work.
“We have a rather suspect brake assembly. He’s the only one that’s willing to drive it,” Cocker said dryly, motioning at Pashak.
“It’s going to be pretty fun,” Pashak said.
The team is made up of engineers Pashak, graduate student, and Zimmer, who works at an ice cream plant; Gamble, CSU student and the creative genius of the team; and Cocker, who is a CSU graduate described by Pashak as “kind of worthless.”
“I provided the beer,” joked Cocker, who is going to California to earn a brewing degree in January.
Retracting his former statement and coming to Cocker’s defense, though, Pashak also noted that the team’s racer currently resides in Cocker’s cluttered garage — one point toward worthiness in their book.
And regardless of whether the brake system functions or not on Saturday, the team said they plan to fly across the finish line in a blaze of glory and with a touch of humor.
While Pashak said he is most excited about racing the course, Cocker said he is eager to see what outlandish concepts other teams bring to the race.
“We had a tough time coming up with our design,” Cocker said, “You see other people’s and you’re like ‘What the f*** were you on when you came up with that?'”
“One team had to be drinking,” he continued, laughing. “Their [craft] is a Jack Daniel’s bottle,”
If Cocker believes the Jack Daniels craft design is indicative of what that team was doing while they were designing their soapbox, one has to wonder what Team Green Machine was doing when they came up with their first craft design idea.
“We originally wanted to do a ram humping a buffalo,” Pashak said, grinning.
Cocker said they had even planned on making some moving parts but ultimately decided they’d rather make sure they were eligible to compete. The ram design, they agreed, suffices.
Pashak said the competition is judged on three criteria: creativity, a team skit (to be performed that day) and the time it takes to complete the race.
Calling their soapbox a “box on wheels” and “a tank,” the team is confident their craft is almost indestructible. They’re not as confident in its speed.
However, both Pashak and Cocker said they plan on taking down the CU-Boulder team, which races directly after Team Green Machine.
They also hope that the creativity of their CSU-themed ram-craft and the hilarity of their CU-bashing skit will hopefully make up for any points they give up in the speed category.
“I’m just excited to wet my pants on national television,” Cocker said about the skit, but added that if anyone wants to find out more, they’ll have to come out and watch.
When the dust clears, and if Pashak and Zimmer make it through the course alive, Cocker and Pashak said they hope to stand tall in the winners circle — but not in first place.
“We’re shooting for second and hoping for the people’s choice award,” Pashak said of the distinction awarded to the crowd favorite.
Pashak added that, with Red Rocks Park’s proximity to Boulder, the people’s choice award will only be possible if CSU has a good student showing to compete with CU’s crowd.
The team said they are using Facebook invitations, bribes and threats to encourage students to show up.
“Support your local hometown heroes,” Cocker said in encouragement.
Student Stephen Veals said he plans on finding a way to the race and cannot wait to see Team Green machine hand CU a crushing defeat.
“(The race is) so awesome,” Veals, a junior journalism major said. “The Rams are hell on wheels.”
Pashak and Cocker said they want the big, red, second-place ribbon because the prize is much better than the first-place prize.
They said the prize for first is a pit pass for an upcoming NASCAR race, while the second place prize is a rally driving class on ice in Steamboat.
“We want second purely for the prize. It’s really about the race, but more about the prize,” Cocker said.
The team, with its members all of legal drinking age, said that if they take second, they plan on celebrating big-time.
“Probably with Red Bull and vodka,” Pashak said.
Cocker added they’d probably be celebrating with Red Bull and vodka regardless of the outcome, however.
“I told them if we took second, I’d tattoo Red Bull on my ass,” Pashak said, adding, eyes twinkling, that the team has “a surprise when (they) cross the finish line.”
And Cocker is quick in making sure it stays a surprise.
“We’re not letting on to that,” he said.
Senior reporter Jim Sojourner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.