As Mr. Potato Head waited for the Brunswick Road traffic light to glow green so he could turn onto Sutton Way and head to Paulette’s Country Kitchen, a driver in the next lane aimed her smartphone out her side window and snapped a photo of the life-sized children’s toy.
Mr. Potato Head wasn’t driving, though. In fact, he was constructed to be driven by Gary Apple, who co-chairs Saturday’s Nevada City Adult Soapbox Derby.
Whereas a human ingests a potato in order to derive energy, Apple’s anthropomorphized potato affixed to a giant Radio Flyer wagon requires a person in its belly to control the brakes and steering wheel.
Apple towed his creation Thursday morning, via trailer, to one of the last meetings of a half-dozen core volunteers to iron out the final details for the event’s third annual incarnation, which will take place along Nimrod Street to raise money for Pioneer Park.
The race’s two previous occurrences have attracted several thousand people each.
“The race is the formal closer of our work,” Apple said. “It’s the other stuff that makes it good for me.”
Apple left Mr. Potato Head in the parking lot and headed inside the diner for breakfast. Before he and the other volunteers even ordered food, Apple began to discuss race-day radio frequency and protocols with Gary Blum, Dave Barbe and his wife, Gloria Apple.
As the trio moved on to review a list of the 40 racing teams and their members, at the other end of the table, event developer and coordinator Rich Bodine answered phone calls about trash cans and toilets while poring over a list of the nearly 80 volunteers and their duties.
“That’s what makes this race happen,” Barbe said. “The entire community gets behind this event. Without that, it wouldn’t happen.”
Most in the group drank coffee, looking for fuel after waking up at 4 a.m. to host a camera crew along the race route as they broadcasted live on Good Day Sacramento, a CBS affiliate morning show. Several segments and teasers broadcasted Thursday morning, which the event coordinators hope will attract spectators to Nevada City for Saturday’s races.
“The goal is to cut as big a check as possible to Pioneer Park,” Apple said.
Bodine has estimated that the 2012 race raised at least $15,000 — triple the first year’s total. That $5,000 went toward a bocce ball court, while the bulk of last year’s funds remain unallocated.
About $10,000 was originally slated for repairs to the park’s flood-prone lower baseball field, but that expenditure was incumbent upon a match from the county that was not approved.
While some of those funds have instead gone to increased safety measures, others are being provided generously by event partners, Bodine said, such as the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s two semi-trucks’ worth of Ridge Feed and Supply’s hay bales to line the race route and barricades courtesy of Nevada Union High School.
Safety alterations weren’t the only changes to this year’s proceedings, which were moved from Father’s Day weekend to reduce the strain on Nevada City’s municipal staff and event volunteers.
Perhaps the one change with the most impact will be the location of the staging area for racers.
In the two previous incarnations, all entries were staged at the top of Nimrod Street, then towed back uphill after races.
This year, racers will wait in the Pioneer Park tennis court area and be towed to the starting line at the top of the hill prior to their heats, Bodine said.
This change has numerous benefits, he said, including less impact on the neighborhood, less congestion at the starting line, more access for spectators, more access to vendors for race teams and an overall increase in efficiency. Award also will be handed out in the new staging area following the race with race times withheld until those announcements.
As if the race itself weren’t enough to juggle, the event is accompanied by activities for kids, games, a dozen food booths and other offerings.
One of the more popular nonrace attractions is the open gate to the park’s swimming pool for children. The Nevada City Chamber of Commerce also staffs a beer booth for adults, as long as they aren’t race drivers.
While coordinating the event demands hours of commitment from the volunteers who work on more than just the race day, for Bodine, the Apples and the rest of the gang, it is all about building the cars to benefit the park.
“How many chances do you get to act like a kid again and do something good for your community?” Barbe said.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.