Makeshift chariot race event featured at JHU Spring Fair

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The last time Johns Hopkins freshman Gracie Golden rode in a shopping cart before Saturday was during her toddler years in a grocery store — and those carts weren't covered in duct tape or pushed at breakneck speed while she held on for dear life.

Golden, a member of student radio station WJHU, joined her colleagues and other groups of students in Saturday's Red Bull Chariot Races, an uncanny but festive collegiate event that the energy drink maker holds on campuses nationwide each year.

It was among several events held Saturday at the school's campus-wide Spring Fair, a three-day outdoor festival organized by a nonprofit, student-run organization that has been a campus staple for more than 40 years, officials said. The fair also featured live bands and a children's section with interactive games.

One of the most-attended events was the Red Bull Chariot Race, which Red Bull officials say was held on the Hopkins campus for the first time.

Fraternities, school groups and friends participated in the race, which was held on a makeshift course lined with haystacks in the quadrangle adjacent to Remser Hall. The race itself comprised several time-trial runs, then head-to-head matchups around a track that resembled a figure eight, with teams running in each loop.

Security was sparse for the event, and during the early stages, chariots barely missed people walking along the track. Participants wore helmets as they competed, and though there were no injuries, there were plenty of spills. The more exciting moments in the event came when groups entered the final turns almost simultaneously, with one beating out the other to the stretch past a gantlet of roaring spectators near the finish line.

"It's a lot of fun, it's been really festive for the past few hours," Hopkins student Nick Gersh, who was a member of the student-run radio station team, said before the race. "We're really excited to hopefully not die."

Each group raced with homemade "chariots," contraptions that gave rise to student creativity but scarcely resembled the horse-hauled carriages that carried riders during Panhellenic Games.

In addition to the WJHU chariot, which was called Dead Air, there was a contraption made by Phi Gamma Delta, a cardboard box attached to a skateboard and pulled by rope, called the Swagger.

"Ours is definitely an underdog," said freshman Eli Wallach about the contraption, which during the races barely stayed together during a crash.

The Johns Hopkins Outdoor Club raced with items that it found abandoned behind a dormitory. Its vehicle comprised two bicycles attached by metal frames. The group removed the seats and front wheels, then attached a wooden board to pull the device.

Then there was the winning cart, a wheelchair with a broom attached, that was raced by a group of Hopkins students called Escape from Union Memorial.

The rider, sophomore Jennifer Huang, said that the wheelchair had been borrowed, and it ended up beating WJHU's chariot in the finals with a daunting sprint at the finish.

The winning team took home a diminutive first-place trophy and a prize of 10 in-field passes to Preakness.

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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      Johns Hopkins University sophomores, left to right, Max Yaron, Jennifer Huang and Sam Frishman head for the finish line in a heat of the the Red Bull Chariot Race. Their team, "Escape from Union Memorial," went on to win the competition held during the Spring Fair.

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