Like the Greeks and Romans of old, Ohio State fraternity foes battled for glory Thursday in a chariot race. But instead of Circus Maximus, the arena was 15th Avenue, and instead of trumpets blaring, a disc jockey was scratching. The brutality was there, but whips were replaced by colorful silliness.
Greek Week had yet to begin, but fraternity and sorority partners teamed up to compete in the Red Bull-sponsored race tournament that used humans for horses.
The national program, which began last year, was “designed by Smartacus, pulled by Gluteus and Maximus,” according to redbullchariotrace.com.
This year, it visited 12 colleges beginning with the University of Tennessee on March 27. Thursday’s OSU race was the final stop on the 2010 tour to celebrate greek life, school spirit and rivalry.
Rivalries in OSU’s greek system produced 13 teams vying for the Hermes Prize. The chariot that outraced all others earned a private after-party upstairs at the O Patio and Pub for any fraternity or sorority members who helped make or support it.
The event had more than 650 attendees, according to Facebook, and many of them wore togas to the party to get a free Red Bull and vodka cocktail.
Participants had to design and build their own chariots from scratch. Speed was not the only thing that mattered.
The Archimedes Award went to the team with the most creativity and well-built chariot.
The combined efforts of Phi Delta Theta and Kappa Alpha Theta won with its Fresh Prince of Bel Air-themed chariot. The chariot was based on the taxi from the show’s opening song rapped by Will Smith. And the same three-person team that wore bright, sideways hats won its collective weight in cans of Red Bull.
Every chariot was themed, but they were not all made the same. Wheels from forklifts, bicycles and wheelbarrows were used to roll charioteers atop everything from a rocking horse to a La-Z-Boy recliner.
Not all pilots rode in comfort. The Sigma Alpha Mu member laid on a flat piece of wood with no handles or sides that was pulled by a rope.
The Sammy charioteer wore a motorcycle helmet and leather jacket for protection, as he anticipated being swung off around the race course’s turning point.
That’s just what happened in Sammy’s first-round duel. As the board rolled up onto the legs of its pullers, the opposing chariot got tangled up. But in the madness, Sammy’s charioteer crawled back on his board, and his teammates picked up the loose rope and hauled him to victory.
They had no such luck in the second round, when he was thrown off again. And at the finish, he swung wide once more and knocked over the giant inflatable Red Bull gate that marked the start and finish lines.
“Most were smart and had a lighter girl be the chariot driver and used the strong men as gladiators,” said Sarah Greenberg, a third-year in international business and marketing.
But others opted to stay on theme, which for Beta Theta Pi, meant no girls. Driven by Scooby-Doo, its mystery machine chariot was hauled by Shaggy and Fred. Despite its lighthearted theme, the trio was there to compete.
“We taped the van down for hard lines — gotta make sure it’s aerodynamic,” said Greg Morgan, a fifth-year in business. “We’re in it to win it.”
Others, such as Alpha Epsilon Pi, were not so creative. Second-year engineering student Aaron Feldman described its very simple chariot as rickety.
But even teams lacking in speed or inventiveness could win the third prize. The Greek Spirit Award went to the team with the most enthusiasm and crowd support. Based on applause from its spectators, Delta Tau Delta won a fraternity event of its choosing to be paid for by Red Bull.
The race course was marked off, enclosed by bails of hay, and ran from the Delta Tau Delta house to the Alpha Tau Omega house where 20 people watched from the roof. Residents in each of the houses along that stretch of 15th Avenue had to sign a city permit to allow the street to be blocked off, Greenberg said.
Students drinking Red Bulls lined the course on both sides and at some points, the crowd was four persons deep. Racers dashed east about a half block before scampering around a hay bail and returning.
But before the first round of matchups, each team performed a 30-second skit for the crowd while the disc jockey blasted its theme song.
Perhaps the Red Bulls that the Evans Scholars team bonged for their skit didn’t sit well because they lost in the first round to Delta Tau Delta’s Sesame Street trio.
This bracket-style competition created head-to-head action, but the odd number of teams meant one got a bye into the second round. For its creativity, the Fresh Prince team was chosen by the three event judges, who were dressed in togas, said Jason Moore, a judge and second-year in marketing.
So the remaining 12 teams raced for six second-round spots. The “rickety” Alpha Epsilon Pi chariot beat Scooby’s “aerodynamic” mystery machine van, which was taped down for less drag. As it careened around the hay, it tipped over and was dragged the rest of the way.
Scooby-Doo was only the first casualty of the day. There was one other collision in the opening round and several tilting-on-one-wheel, near-fall moments.
Three of the first-round losers were picked based on inventiveness and spirit to race for the eighth second-round spot, said Kyle Blizzard, 2009 OSU graduate and emcee of the event.
This ridiculous three-team race pitted Delta Chi against Evans Scholars against Beta Theta Pi’s mystery machine. Their chariots couldn’t even fit width-wise in the starting gate. Mayhem ensued.
The mystery machine tipped over again, and Delta Chi’s Flintstones-themed team won the wild card spot. They then raced and defeated the Fresh Prince bye team in the second round.
The more competition escalated, the more intense the faces of the gladiators became.
In the second round, Phi Kappa Psi scampered out to an early lead and tried to block a passing move with its extremely wide recliner chariot. This backfired when the team’s opponent cut the hairpin turn on the inside.
The trailing chariot completely ran over one of Phi Psi’s gladiators before wrecking into its chariot, which exploded. The trampled gladiator joined his teammate in trying to pull the chair by itself without a strut, but it was too late.
Slowing down for the turn created many collisions and thus ended up being the crucial key to victory. With each passing race, more bits of wreckage and hay from wipeouts lined the narrow course, where space was precious.
The championship round featured Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) and its aquatic-themed chariot called Poseidon’s Harpoon, ridden by captain Amy Factor and pulled by gladiators Tim Liutkus and Kevin Kawalec. Their adversary was the Flintstones Delta Chi team, captained by Vince Lam and hauled by Eddie Liggett and Scott Plunkett.
Having lost in the first round, Delta Chi fought back by winning the wild card spot and then two more races. But Fred and Barney’s feet couldn’t pedal the pavement fast enough for Poseidon’s Harpoon, and FIJI sailed to victory.
Phi Gamma Delta supporters rushed to the finish to encircle, hoist high and celebrate their victorious champions. For Factor, Liutkus and Kawalec, it was greek glory — even with cardboard dolphin dorsal fins taped to their backs.