Strange contraptions to run Kinetic Skulpture race
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Cleare Shields, Jessica Randall and Jonathan Henson, from left, add finishing touches to their craft, the Lord Humongous.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — The idea that a person can never walk through the same river twice — one changes, as does the river — is never more appropriate than when discussing the annual Kinetic Skulpture race.

The form of the celebration — which begins tonight and leads up to the race Sunday — doesn't change appreciably from year to year.

Teams of entrepreneurs build self-propelled crafts that run an odd race course, while the entire town comes to watch.

But who knows what will happen?

“This is the last festival of the year,” said Janet Emery, who has run the event for 17 years.

“And it is the only one that all the people in Port Townsend come out to see.”

The weekend will begin with an early bird hospitality party from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. today at the Undertown, 211 Taylor St.

Saturday's events will begin with an assembly of racers at 10:30 a.m. in the U.S. Bank parking lot near the ferry terminal.

The racers will parade down Water Street to Monroe Street to take a “float test” adjacent to the Northwest Maritime Center.

Funds for the annual race, now in its 30th year, are raised by the Saturday night ball.

That begins at 8 p.m. at the American Legion Hall, 209 Monroe St., which has a capacity of 520 people

Admission will be $15 at the door. The ball is restricted to those older than 21.

Featuring The Better Half as entertainment, the headlining event is the crowning of the Rose Hips Queen, who carries the Kinetic flag at other events throughout the year.

Each contestant must tell a joke, share a recipe and show a talent of some kind.

Three finalists are picked by the judges, and the winner is selected by the shouts of the crowd.

Sunday is the main event, with the racers lining up at the Legion at 10:30 a.m. in preparation for the “Low Noon” start time.

The first checkpoint is at the Port Townsend Salmon Club ramp near the maritime center at around 1 p.m.

Teams will work their way up to the beach at Fort Worden State Park for a “Kwick Sand” race at about 1:30 p.m.

A Discover Pass is not required for those who want to watch the race.

The next stop will be the Dismal Bog at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, 4907 Landes St., where there is a mud race, followed by the “Homage to the Kosmic Rooster” at Cedar Street off San Juan Avenue at about 3:30 p.m.

The final checkpoint will be at Kinetic Coffee at 520 Kearney St., with the last leg down Water Street to the American Legion post, ending at “6-ish.”

Awards will follow, with every participant receiving a prize, the most coveted being the “Mediocrity Award” for the racer finishing in the middle.

This is computed through a network of 15 ham radio enthusiasts who clock each participant at different locations and send the data to the “command center” at the Legion post.

The racer who was in the middle for the greatest amount of time gets the award.

“There is no way that you can predict or control finishing in the middle,” Emery said.

John Lizwacko, who dresses up as the “Top Cop” and has attended about 20 Kinetic events, said it has become more family-friendly over the years.

“The kids are very creative, and the next generation is getting involved,” Lizwacko said.

“And the kids who get involved learn a lot about building things, solving problems and the value of teamwork.”

In its 30th year, the event provides a way for people to dress up and act weird without any repercussions.

“People have a good time and come out of the closet, in a way,” Lizwacko said.

“Lawyers put on their costumes, and it's like Halloween for them,” he said.

Emery chimed in: “Halloween on steroids.”

There is the idea that something like the Kinetic Skulpture race can happen only in a place like Port Townsend because of the town's inherent eccentricity, but it is also, to borrow one of the region's favorite words, sustainable.

Emery won't say how much the event costs, only saying “lots,” but disclosed that it raises enough money each year to pay for the next year's event.

Expenses include T-shirts, printing and a few million-dollar insurance policies.

Emery has visited Kinetic events in other cities in Oregon and California, and made friends with the person who directs a race in Colorado.

“When you talk to people from other races, it's like talking to cousins,” she said.

“There is one common thread: that we all love to be part of a community of people who want to be silly.”

For more information, visit

Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

Last modified: October 04. 2012 6:07PM
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