The Idiotarod Shopping Cart Derby: Real-Life 'Wacky Races'
Every winter in Alaska, teams of grizzled dog sledders gather to compete in the most grueling race known to man. Over a span of days and of 1,000 miles, teams of haggard huskies drag their masters across blizzard-pocked tundra to win tens of thousands of dollars, fame, and the glory of competing in the fabled Iditarod race.
But I'm here to talk not about the Iditarod, but the Idiotarod, a yearly race where self-proclaimed dinguses race each other in the finest chariots that the Walmart parking lot has to offer. Starting in 1994 in San Francisco, the shopping cart race has since spread to Brooklyn, Chicago, Austin, and every other place in America where hipsters have gotten bored with microbrewing.
Aside from the name, there are few similarities between the simulated Alaskan survival trek and the Williamsburg supermarket sweep. Since no inner city has a thousand miles of unforgiving wilderness to plow through for up to ten days, Idiotarod races are usually limited to a couple of miles, which can still take several hours depending on the amount of uncontrollably loose shopping cart wheels -- and pub crawl stops by the contestants.
And instead of a team of 12 determined huskies, each shopping cart is also manned by a team of five-ish costumed "idiots" tasked with Jackass-ing their way down icy city roads. But while the Iditarod claims several canine casualties every year, so far, no one has ever risked severe injuries competing in an Idiotarod race -- discounting those risking frostbite from running around in Borat mankinis in the middle of January.
That doesn't mean that the Idiotarod doesn't have an air of danger. Competitors are actively encouraged to not only trick out their shopping carts with all kinds of Wacky Races-esque gadgets but also to sabotage their competition. From twine traps to oil slicks to throwing marbles to even spooking the competition with home-made flamethrowers, everything is allowed -- as long as it adheres loosely to Hanna-Barbera levels of PG-rated mayhem. And that goes double for making sure they don't bother non-competing citizens. Contestants are encouraged to "make sure that we don't get the inconvenience higher than the entertainment level," to quote Dan Glass, member of the infamous New York Skulleaters idiot team.
So how does one win at Idiotarod? Getting over the finish line first is only a minor part of acing the race. Roaming judges score shopping cart teams on several criteria, including decoration, sportsmanship, silly sabotage, and, equally importantly, bribery. Teams are actively encouraged to bribe judges in any way they can, from money to favors to straight-up seduction. In return, competitors don't crash carts for cash, but for the prize of having fun, sharing camaraderie, and even showing kindness. Chicago's Idiotarod race (the Chiditarot) prides itself on being "probably the world's largest mobile food drive," which in 2020 included distributing $46,600 in emergency coronavirus relief. So the next time you see groups of middle-aged nerds luging down the street in modded out shopping carts, instead of mumbling "damn dorks" under your breath, salute these free-wheeling rascals for putting the hopping back in shopping cart.
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Top Image: Erin