Sweet Briar Soapbox Derby team begins testing, plans demo

| September 1, 2008

In what promises to be an eye-popping demonstration on the Quad at noon Wednesday, Sept. 3, Sweet Briar College students will unveil team P.I.N.K.’s entry in the Red Bull Soapbox Derby, which will be held Saturday in Philadelphia.

The car is a nearly 7-foot-high and roughly 175-pound hot pink woman’s shoe — a stiletto-heeled pump to be more precise.

Race organizers stress originality and personality in the vehicle designs as much as overall speed. The team, a mix of engineering and biology majors, went with the shoe motif to draw attention to their all-women’s school. Although the students’ participation is extracurricular, Sweet Briar is sponsoring the team.

Construction of the derby car is taking place in the College’s engineering lab. It is a multidisciplinary effort, with team members pitching in from the visual design and thematic components to the mechanical work and construction. Assistant professor of engineering Scott Pierce — who suggested the students enter the contest — is serving as faculty advisor.

On race day, sophomore Katelyn James will pilot the car down one of Philadelphia’s steepest hills, called Manayunk Wall, while junior Maxine Emerich will operate the brakes. Both are engineering science majors.

Kate Montemurro, a biochemistry and molecular biology major in her third year, engineering science sophomore MaryAnne Haslow-Hall and Lauren Schwartz, a senior biology major, are the team’s mechanics.

Production on the vehicle is moving apace and the team conducted successful tests of its steering and braking systems on Sweet Briar’s campus Monday afternoon. “It handles the corners a lot better than I thought it would,” Emerich said, noting that they had worried it would lean too much into the turns.

Showmanship also counts in the competition, so the women are working out a skit based on the theme that “Suzie Sweet Briar does it all.” There will be singing. Wednesday’s demonstration will be the team’s premiere performance in front of an audience.

P.I.N.K. — which stands for Pretty, Intelligent, and Now Kicking — is one of about 39 teams selected for the Philadelphia race from a pool of nearly 250 applications.

Visit the Red Bull Soapbox Derby Web site for more information on the contest.

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