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A group of free wheelin’ individuals raised more than $1,000 Saturday for the American Cancer Society.
Several hundred people lined the narrow, twisty incline of Cissal Hill Road near Athertonville to watch the third annual “Big Wheels for a Cure.”
For a $10 donation to the ACS, a participant could drive a homebuilt three-wheeled contraption – similar to a child’s “big wheel” tricycle – down the county road. Bright orange event T-shirts and concessions also were sold.
The big wheels were constructed of several materials – old bicycle and lawnmower parts, tractor seats and plastic buckets. A few drivers bought new, large-wheeled tricycles and modified them.
Laura Swarts of Bardstown, who signed in the competitors, said her boyfriend Levi Wooldridge and his friends had been racing the trikes for a couple of years, but decided to “organize” it this year.
“We didn’t have a goal,” she said, “but we made a lot more than we expected. We had 100 T-shirts and we sold out of them.”
“It was awesome,” she added.
Forty-two drivers signed up for the Cissal Hill run.
A group of eight-to-10 individuals regularly race the trikes in various locations, said Jason Newton, who helped organize the race. More people became involved due to the event being a fundraiser, he added. It was held in honor of T.J. Downs, a former U.S. Marine, who is fighting cancer.
Between the sign-ups, shirt sales, concessions and outright donations, $1,084 was raised after expenses.
“Everybody enjoyed themselves,” Newton said. “They had a good time working on it.”
Last year, Kentucky State Police showed up at the race, responding to a complaint that the group was blocking the road. Newton was proactive this year, asking LaRue County Fiscal Court for permission to use the road for the two-hour event.
The event was OK’d by county government – with conditions. The court stipulated traffic could be blocked for no more than five minutes at a time; the run would be suspended in case of an emergency; and all debris associated with the event would be cleaned up and disposed of by the sponsors.
There are few rules for the big wheel race: No motors. Back wheels must be plastic. Helmets are required and “other protective gear highly recommended.”
The drivers had different strategies. Some pedaled all the way down the mile-long course; some reclined; others stood, pushing the big wheel like a scooter. There were a couple of two-seaters and some wore cameras on their helmets, capturing their harrowing downhill ride on video.
The trikes reach speeds of about 25 miles per hour, said Newton.
The race is similar to those held in San Francisco, Calif., on Easter, and Tulsa, Okla., with proceeds going to charity.
The drivers were divided into three races or “heats” to avoid blocking the road. A few “slide-outs” occurred, with at least one driver contacting the guardrail on the most difficult curve.
Newton won his heat but lost in the feature to last year’s champ, Kurt Edelen.
Chris Wells, 18, of Bardstown, said his racer was made of “garbage,” with PVC rear tires and an antique plow seat. It was his first time on Cissal Hill. He ran into a ditch on his way down the hill but got back in the race.
Eric and Patsy Clements of Botland drove 25 minutes to watch their son Bill Scott of Louisville compete in one of the three heats. He finished in the middle pack of drivers in his second outing.
Their son practiced by “running up and down the road.” He brought spare tires after having a flat last year.
Eric contributed some of the materials used in the vehicle – and enjoyed watching it buzz down the hill.
“It’s a low cost way to have fun,” he said.
For more information on the big wheel races, contact Newton at 502-331-1258.