Two McKinleyville High School seniors – with the help of a dozen or more volunteers – spent the Memorial Day weekend racing in the world famous Kinetic Grand Championship.
Haag piloted the sculpture with fellow student Reed Kenny. The sculpture is a tribute to Betty Chinn, a Eureka philanthropist known for helping the local homeless.
Most of the team is comprised of full IB (International Baccalaureate) diploma candidates – Gordon, Reed, Josh Hostler, Savanna Padilla, Lauren Alexander, Trent McGowan, Rhett Wallace – all seniors; Kayla Templeton (junior) and Sophie Haag (sophomore). Also on the team are senior Justin Hogue, juniors Carmen Arguello and Luis “Santi” Aliss Sabath and sophomore Steven Hostler.
IB Teacher Anne Sahlberg, Kinetic Team advisor, submitted the following journal entries for the event.
Saturday, March 25 – Pageantry included a testudo defensive formation down the street in front of the Jacoby Storehouse, a speech by our “Caesar” (played by Rhett Wallace), and a song celebrating Betty Chinn and the race (written by Savanna Padilla and Lauren Alexander).
We then followed our pilots (at noon) for the LeMans start around the Arcata Plaza and then onto the Manila Community Center. These kids shouted cheers, marched in formation, sang for about six hours straight. We made it to Manila in record time for our team. Some began collecting donations for Betty, while pit crew and pilots (Pilots Reed Kenny and Gordon Haag, pit crew Justin Hogue and Josh Hostler) put on sand tires, changed the chain and got us rolling. But we got stuck on the sandy slope and broke a free spin. Then the joint that held the hub got bent and the gear kept popping out. After over 1.5 hours of attempted repairs, we had to push the machine which meant we lost ACE status but we were still in the race. (Note: Two seasoned race veterans, June Moxon and Duane Flatmo, were in front of and behind us also pushing, so we were comforted to be in their company).
The team was a bit down for about 10 minutes but then got back into the race, cheering, singing and running along the beach to Dead Man’s Drop where Kenny and Haag rode “Betty’s Chariot of Charity” down the dangerous hill.
They rode over the Samoa bridges into a glorious finish at Halvorsen Park, sparkling and shining in all their blue, white and gold. Their horse is quite recognizable. Kenny and Haag made some repairs at the park, helped out the solo Napa High School senior and his sculpture “Counter Culture”) with some welds, then invited him to join the team at Wallace’s house for the evening.
Sunday, May 26 – We met at 8:30 a.m. to get organized. Haag and Kenny rode the machine from Halvorsen to Wharfinger and the rest of the team marched in formation, chanting, through Old Town.
At Wharfinger, we put pontoons for water on the machine and were met by Betty Chinn. We sang for her and she told us a newspaper in China had picked up our story already!
As we filled the pontoons, a small leak was detected and we thought it was all over. But luck was with us. One of the “Dead Ant” (Ken Beidelman’s team) crew members works at Wing Inflatables, confirmed we could patch with Gorilla Tape for the day and then offered to patch it for free after the race (which was huge since the pontoons have been borrowed from a charitable community member and worth thousands of dollars we did not have to buy them).
We continued to move ahead in the line up for the plunge, shouting cheers and handing out “bribes” to spectators (including Blue Angel candies – Betty’s Blue Angel is the name of her organization, bottle cap buttons – assembled by Sophia Haag, and signs with a glittered horse – drawn by Carmen Arguello – for kids to wave).
We did one more testudo formation in front of Haag and Kenny before they entered the water, sang to them as they plunged into the bay. They had the BEST water crossing our team has ever enjoyed, escorted by pit crew in a canoe. The rest of the team (affectionately defined as “Peons”) marched and ran along the waterfront, entertaining the crowd, collecting a few donations, inspiring our sculpture team on the water.
The exit under the Samoa Bridge was perfect and we then removed water gear and got moving to Eureka Natural Foods, then onto CR where there was another breakdown and repair of an axle pin.
Back on the road, the team made their way up Table Bluff Hill then down the 7 percent grade where they were up to 30 mph in their machine! Then they continued onto Crab Park where they crossed the finish line around 6 p.m. We went to our camp, The Temple of Charity, where we enjoyed a feast of tabouli salad, dolmas, grapes, falafel and tzatiki.
Last year’s machine needed hours of repair (Haag and Kenny wearing headlamps to finish) but this year none were necessary and the team got to visit with other campers and enjoy barbecue and bribes.
Monday, May 27 – We will be meeting back at Crab Park around 11 a.m. for the pilot’s meeting and to find out what changes to the course are being made since the weather is stormy. It is possible they will be crossing the mouth of the Eel River today but if not, there will be an alternate route in place. We should be rolling into Ferndale around 2:30 or 3 p.m., but who knows? Betty will be meeting us on Main Street to celebrate our finish. There will be an awards dinner at 6 p.m. After four years, we have received the “Poor Pitiful Me” trophy – year one; “Best Junior Entry” – year two; “Best Pit Crew” – year three and we are hoping for more glory tonight!
My sister, husband and I rode with the team and have been approached by so many spectators, officials and participants this weekend stating how amazing these students are, how they don’t stop, how they celebrate Betty, how they are making the race more fun. They have been interviewed by three news channels and are enjoying every minute of it!
(Editor’s note: The McKinleyville Press went to the printer Monday afternoon while the racers were still on the road.)