Traditionally, Power Wheels—those mini electric Hummers and Barbie cars sold at Toy’s “R” Us—are mere status symbols for the 3-to-6-year-old set. But swap in a new motor, boost the battery, bolt on a serious set of wheels, then rig it all to a chain drive and you’ve got a plastic buggie that can hit 20 mph with an adult in the driver’s seat. You’ve also got the makings of a new auto sport.
Enter the Power Racing Series, which pits overclocked minimobiles against one another in tiny but heated competition. Entrants must spend less than $500 (excluding safety gear) and use low-voltage batteries to avoid electrocution. Racers compete in three challenges: a drag race, a 15-lap mini Grand Prix, and a 75-minute endurance challenge. The unofficial series motto: “Speed. Glory. Electrical Fires.”
Though the tourney was founded in 2009, this year marked its first full season, complete with circuit stops at Make magazine events throughout the Midwest. The final race, held in Detroit in late July, featured the crowning of an overall champ: Team Sector67 out of Madison, Wisconsin. Sector67 fielded a camouflage jeep capable of reaching 24 mph thanks to two 1.25-horsepower street-sweeper motors attached to an electric differential and wheelbarrow wheels with regenerative brakes. (The differential lets the rear tires spin independently for tighter-than-usual cornering.) The true breakthrough, however, is a remote telemetry kit that monitors motor temperature so the team can track overheating. That’s not to say all blowups are bad—especially if you want to win fan-favorite points. “It’s not necessarily where you finish, but how. Do you go out in a blaze of glory?” says Jim Burke, the 25-year-old director of Power Racing. Think you’ve got a tiny-car racer in you? The series starts up again next summer.