Buggies and beds: racing traditions on campus

Paul Greatrix has your essential round-up of some strange student racing traditions

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

We’re all familiar with the long-running Oxford v Cambridge boat race but I was keen to find out whether there were any other interesting traditional university races around.

I happened on this particular activity at Carnegie Mellon University. The annual ‘Buggy’ or ‘Sweepstakes’ race event is a tradition which has been going for over a century and only paused because of World War II and in 2020 due to the pandemic. But it is now back and, as this story notes, it really is an intense activity for the university’s students:

This annual student-led relay race, officially known as “Sweepstakes,” partners designers, engineers, mechanics and athletes. Together, these brilliant, quirky, creative minds produce a buggy — an aerodynamic vehicle with no engine. It’s powered by brains and brawn alone.

In just over two minutes, teams of power-pushing men and women race around a .84 mile track with buggy and driver leading the way around Schenley Park’s Flagstaff Hill, with speeds up to 40 mph.

Every April during Spring Carnival, students, alumni and community fans watch Buggy teams compete for the annual title.

I really do like the look of this and the history of the races shows how buggy design has evolved over the past 100 years to the sleek aerodynamic vehicles they have today.

Less stylish perhaps and a slightly more recent tradition stretching back only around half a century are the Lehigh bed races. These were clearly a health and safety nightmare in the past but are now looking a more secure proposition as this story notes.

And deep in the history of the University of Nottingham there used to be a ‘beer race’ involving teams pushing one of their number around campus on a trolley of sorts and an awful lot of drinking. Probably for the best that this kind of thing doesn’t happen any more…

3 responses to “Buggies and beds: racing traditions on campus

  1. Aber had a “Tower to Tower” race when I was there. Teams had to get one member from the top of the Llandinam building on Penglais campus, down the hill to the seafront and up to the top of the Old College tower without them touching the ground.

  2. Not quite a race, more of an early-morning challenge, there used to be a tradition at Warwick in which a group of male and female students would run a full loop of University Road in the spirit of Lady Godiva. One of the many ways in which we engage with the culture and history of the local community.

    I have not tried it personally, and do not recommend it. The West Midlands weather is simply not suitable.

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