By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
To compete in this sport, you’ll need steely nerves, plastic wheels, a steep hillside and a refusal to grow up.
“Barbie jeep racing” has gained popularity as a zany offshoot of offroad festivals in several states. A Wyoming powersports dealer said he’s eager to bring the semi-insane pseudo-sport to the Cowboy State.
“The way I look at it, it’s kind of soapbox derby for adult 5-year-olds,” Nick Dodgson, owner and general manager of Cheyenne Motorsports, told Cowboy State Daily.
The concept is simple: Grown adults cram themselves into plastic children’s vehicles and careen down steep hills to see who can go the fastest. It frequently results in spectacular crashes.
“I’m trying to think of a decent hill around here where we could do a Barbie jeep race,” Dodgson said. “It would be a great charity event, and I think people would get behind it.”
Pennsylvania’s ‘Barbee’ Race
In video shared with Cowboy State Daily, Tony Colangeli can be seen surviving a fantastic flip-over crash during a toy jeep race at this summer’s Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival in Butler County, Pa.
The “Barbee Jeep Race” has been part of the area’s annual Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival since 2019, festival manager Michele Anderson told Cowboy State Daily. Organizers changed the spelling from “Barbie” to “Barbee” to avoid copyright issues, she said.
Colangeli said the race experience is exhilarating and a little frightening.
“It’s … um … how do I say it? It’s kind of a thrill,” he said. “Your buddies egg you on. You do it just for a laugh.”
The toy vehicles usually come with electric motors, but those must be removed to make them race-ready, said Colangeli, who lives in Sarver, Pennsylvania, and is the jeep club’s vice president.
“It’s all downhill gravity, it’s all free-wheeling,” he said.
‘I Made Highlight Reels With That Crash”
It’s not known exactly how fast the typical Barbee jeep gets going during the races, but it’s a pretty good clip, considering the vehicles and their payload, Colangeli said.
“It feels pretty fast when you’re sitting on a little plastic jeep,” he said.
This year’s race vehicle came to him through good fortune, Colangeli said.
“It was a little red Jeep Wrangler,” he said. “A friend of mine found it sitting in an alleyway. It had been put out for trash.
“So, I painted it up in the ‘Jurassic Park’ colors, and I put on a yellow raincoat for the race,” he said. “We have ‘pushers’ at the top of the hill. My brother Nick even dressed up as a T. rex to be my pusher. I did my best to keep up the ‘Jurassic Park’ theme.
“During the first heat, I made it all the way to the bottom of the course. But on the second heat I flipped and crashed. I actually made some peoples’ highlight reels from the festival with that crash.”
In some places, Barbie jeep races run down dirt hillsides. The grassy hillside used during the Bantam festival is a bit more forgiving, but racers can still get badly banged up in crashes, Colangeli said.
“I escaped serious injury in my crash, but you wouldn’t know it by the way I landed,” he said.
The next Bantam Festival is set for June 9-11, 2023, and Colangeli said he’d like to run the Barbee jeep race again.
“It will definitely be part the jeep festival next year,” he said. “Now, whether I’m allowed to do it … well, the missus might have something to say about that.”
Ideas For Wyoming Races
Wyoming Barbie jeep races could be as extreme or as mild as participants want, Dodgson said.
“I’ve actually considered how stupid I’d want to be at the age of 55,” he said. “There will always be the young bucks that will try to kick our tails, but I think this is a sport us older guys could try.”
Dodgson said he’s seen footage of Barbie jeep races in which the course was lined with wet tarps, with a pool of water at the bottom.
“That looks completely ridiculous, and also kind of fun,” he said.