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Toilet Bowl Race Cars Take To The Streets: Only In Baltimore

They came in the rain, soaked from head to foot: some with face paint dripping down, some dressed in matching jumpsuits or some,  just in simple t-shirts and shorts. And they came with their toilet bowl race cars - yes, toilet bowl race cars...exquisitely engineered to roll down Chestnut Ave. in Hampden one after another, like a parade displaying Baltimore’s sense of humor.

Twenty-three pilots boarded their homemade toilet bowl vessels and zoomed down the street while crowds dressed in rain gear and carrying umbrellas cheered them on.

It's a Hampdenfest tradition that began nine years ago on the whim of  local artist and handyman, Steve Baker. He was trying to help raise awareness - and maybe even some money - for a neighborhood skatepark that local kids wanted. 

"I said, ‘What if you take these longboards and raced them down the street like street luges," he recalls. "Or even crazier, what if you strapped a toilet to it and make it toilet races."

He says the kids thought it was a crazy idea at first. Then they asked, how do you do that?

They figured it out. Now, the racers must meet certain qualifications. They must steer straight, be able to stop, and carry what Baker calls a "human defecation device." That could be a real toilet, diapers, urinals, or this year one woman rode a racer with a potty seat built in.  

The entrants are a mixed bag. Some are teachers riding their students' creations, some are local parents and business owners and this year there was one representative of law enforcement, Major Richard Gibson, commander of the city police department's Northern District. 

He said he usually comes out every year to watch the races, but this year decided to enter. And he made quite a hit, tossing candy to the crowd as he sped down the hill.

And there was Bill Stevenson, a come-what-may amateur inventor, who's been entering the race for several years.

Stevenson returned this year after a frightening accident last year. It seems the three-wheeled bike that carried him and a toilet bowl had "minimal breakage," as he tells it.

He crossed the finish line going too fast for the hay bales set up as bumpers to stop him, tried to make adjustments, but failed and crashed, ripping up his inner thigh. He wound up in the emergency room at Sinai Hospital and came out with 30 stitches and 30 staples holding him together.

He says he got a lot of physical and emotional support from neighbors, friends, co-workers, and customers.

"I'm grateful for all the folks who helped me recuperate," he said. "Here I am to tell the tale and race another device down the hill."

He returned this year with an upgraded braking system and finished sixth. 

Watch Bill Stevenson's triumphant return to the Hampdenfest toilet races.

This story originally aired on September 10, 2018. 

Mary Rose is a reporter and senior news producer for 88.1 WYPR FM, a National Public Radio member station in Baltimore. At the local news desk, she assigns stories, organizes special coverage, edits news stories, develops series and reports.