The rules of soapbox derbies are simple—build a non-motorized vehicle that can careen down a hill at lightning speed—but the results are anything but. The unbridled imagination of the teams designing the cars yields fantastical results and some elaborate costumes to boot. When photographer Alan Powdrill heard about the Red Bull Soapbox Race in London, he grabbed his Hasselblad H4 and set out to capture the most creative designs entering the competition.
“I’ve always been interested in the ‘human spirit’ and the slightly off beat side to it,” Powdrill says of his interest in shooting portraits. “The quirky, the off kilter always seemed a lot more fascinating than the winners and big shots of the world. I’m attracted to the underdogs. And when I heard about the Soapbox Race it was a no-brainer that these would make really interesting subjects.”
Red Bull has hosted over 100 soapbox derbies all around the world. There’s no prerequisite for entering a tricked-out car or donning a Darth Vader costume, but points are awarded for showmanship, charisma, and creativity, so it behooves participants to pull out all the stops.
Powdrill took photos of teams that riffed on early-20th-century police squads, the Royal Family, and space travelers. To pump up the surreal quality, he then photoshopped different backgrounds behind the people (but didn’t alter the costumes or cars).
“All I asked from each team was to look proud, which given what they were doing and had spent months preparing for—wasn’t a big ask,” Powdrill says.
Spy a few of our favorites in the slide show above and head to alanpowdrill.com for more.