Nerd Culture

Phoenix Idiotarod 2017: A Field Guide to Saturday's Event in Downtown Phoenix

A team inspired by The Lego Movie at the Phoenix Idiotarod in 2015.
Benjamin Leatherman
A team inspired by The Lego Movie at the Phoenix Idiotarod in 2015.
Logan McKenzie and a few of his pals are feeling the power of Grayskull Castle at the moment. That is to say, the 38-year-old Phoenix resident and his friends are gazing in awe at a 4-foot-high recreation of the fictional fortress from ’80s cartoon He-Man and the Masters of the Universe they’ve been building out of Styrofoam, papier mâché, and neoprene rubber mats.

And while there’s still some work left to be done, including some additional painting and sculpting, it's quite impressive.

“It’s looking really good,” McKenzie says.

Josh Ormiston, a friend and fellow He-Man fan, agrees with the assessment. “Yeah, we really only need like one more night to finish it,” he says. “It looks great.”

It also looks a little unusual, considering this Grayskull Castle is mounted onto an ordinary shopping cart. That’s because McKenzie and his friends plan to use it during this weekend’s Phoenix Idiotarod, the gonzo annual event involving costumed participants racing colorfully decorated carts in and around the city's downtown area.

For those who’ve never heard of the Phoenix Idiotarod before, the event (which is organized every February by the urban pranksters of the Arizona Cacophony Society) is part bar crawl, party cosplay gathering, and part counter-cultural event with a bit of Cannonball Run and Jackass thrown in the mix.

Each year, more than 30 teams participate in the event, each consisting of five or more people wearing costumes and driving around a shopping carts adorned with decorations. Every group has their own theme, which is typically inspired by pop culture, topical subjects, or cheeky and sophomoric humor.

click to enlarge Logan McKenzie (far right) and his friends as characters from Pee-Wee's Playhouse at last year's Idiotarod. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Logan McKenzie (far right) and his friends as characters from Pee-Wee's Playhouse at last year's Idiotarod.
Benjamin Leatherman
McKenize’s group, for instance, riffs on Masters of the Universe. As such, each member will dress as a character from the cartoon, such as He-Man, Skeletor, or Man-At-Arms.

Meanwhile, other teams participating in this year’s race – which takes place on Saturday, February 11 – will referencer on such pop culture hallmarks as Star Trek, Rick and Morty, Goodfellas, and The A-Team. As you’d expect, given the current political climate, a couple of teams will riff on President Donald Trump.

McKenize's team tends to bring their "A" game to Idiotarod each year when it comes to their theme. Last year, for example, they came dressed as characters from Pee Wee's Playhouse, complete with recreations of Conky and Chairy.

Idiotarod organizer Milan Sierra says he always enjoys seeing what participants come up with each year.

“I'm always impressed,” he says. “Some of these teams get so intricate with their themes, their costumes and the design of the cart itself. It's pretty impressive how much time, money and creativity they put into each one of these carts.”

Whatever their chosen theme, teams participate in an afternoon-long race that seems to be as much about the chaotic fun and humorous costumes as the actual competition. And like most other Arizona Cacophony-organized events — like the annual Santarchy in December or the Brides of March next month – there's plenty of drinking involved.

click to enlarge Teams racing at Idiotarod 2015. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Teams racing at Idiotarod 2015.
Benjamin Leatherman
There's a definite spirit of rivalry and one-upmanship with Phoenix Idiotarod, as participants roll through the course that circumnavigates downtown and includes stops at various nearby bars and checkpoints featuring weird challenges like jousting, tug-of-war, or shotgunning a beer. Harmless pranks and sabotage are also common, ranging from chaining up opposing carts to dousing others with water balloons.

Valarie Aroyo, a frequent Idiotarod participant, says she enjoys the sabotage in particular.

“It’s one of my favorite parts,” she says. “How many carts can we steal, how we can disable their wheels, what kind of stuff do we throw at them?”

Phoenix resident Laurie Godfrey, who’s teamed up with McKenzie the past few years, says that Idiotarod is pure fun.

“I really like doing the costumes and coming up with the theme and how to make it work all together. It's a different kind of challenge,” she says. “But then the race is just fun. The challenges and sabotage is great. There's nothing about it that's not fun.”

If it sounds like the kind of fun you'd be into – and you've got a shopping cart at your disposal and a few like-minded friends, Sierra says there are still a few spots available on this year's roster for extra teams. Costumes are strongly encouraged, he adds, but aren't required to participate (just in case you can't slap something together by this weekend). If you'd rather just watch the event instead, that's cool, too.

We've put together a guide to Phoenix Idiotarod 2017 with all the relevant info for both spectators and participants and it contains everything you'll need to know beforehand.

click to enlarge Milan Sierra gives instructions to teams at the Idiotarod in 2015. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Milan Sierra gives instructions to teams at the Idiotarod in 2015.
Benjamin Leatherman
When and Where: Phoenix Idiotarod 2017 officially kicks off at noon on Saturday, February 11, at Margaret T. Hance Park, 1134 North Central Avenue. The starting point for the race is located next to the Central Avenue bridge and teams will begin gathering around 11 a.m. It's also the ideal time for spectators to show up, as you’ll be able check out the carts and costumes before everything and everybody gets wrecked.

Teams will compete in their first challenge at the park before departing for their first stop with the rest of their checkpoints being revealed en route. The event typically runs throughout the afternoon and usually wraps up by the early evening.

How to Participate: As we mentioned, space is available on the roster for extra teams, which must include at least four or five people. Costumes and cart decorations are optional, but strongly encouraged by organizers (even it's something you can slap together in a day). Anyone interested can e-mail [email protected].

Prices: If you’re a spectator, it’s free to attend the event and follow the teams as they race. If you’re a participant, it's $50 per team. And like at any bar crawl, you’ll have to pay for your own drinks.

Age Limits: While spectators of any age can come to Hance Park to check out the teams or watch the start of the race, some of the activities and costumes are a bit on the risqué side. Participants must be of legal drinking age, however, given there’s alcohol and bars involved.

click to enlarge Phoenix Idiotarod teams gathered outside of Mother Brunch during last year's race. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Phoenix Idiotarod teams gathered outside of Mother Brunch during last year's race.
Benjamin Leatherman
Getting There and Parking: The starting point and several of the checkpoints and participating bars are relatively close to light rail, which will run you $2 for a single ride and $4 for an all-day pass. If you’re driving, parking is available on the streets near the starting point at Hance Park for $1 to $1.50 per hour.

Weather: Things will be partly cloudy and relatively cool on Saturday with the chance of some rain. Dress accordingly.

Food and Drinks: Both will be available at any of the participating bars that teams will visit. Some might even offer specials. And pretty much all of the challenges and checkpoints will involve drinking alcohol.

After-Party: Teams and organizers will meet up at a yet-to-be-revealed location following the end of the race to celebrate, hand out awards for the best teams and costumes, and get in even more drinking. More information about the party will be available during the race on Saturday.

click to enlarge Idiotarod racers participate in a drinking challenge at last year's event. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Idiotarod racers participate in a drinking challenge at last year's event.
Benjamin Leatherman
What to Bring: If you’re participating, you’ll obviously need a shopping cart (decorated or otherwise) and possibly some costumes. If you’re spectating, don’t forget a camera. Everyone should also have their IDs, since you’ll be visiting bars, and water, since you’ll be doing a ton of both walking and drinking.

What to do: Race and have fun. If you’re on the sidelines, get an eyeful of all the costumes, carts, and craziness or just snap plenty of pics. You can also cheer on your favorite team, grab a bike and ride to the different checkpoints, have a drink or two, and hang out at the after-party. If you'd like to get involved beyond that (or are in cahoots with some of the Idiotarod competitors), you could also possibly toss some water balloons, confetti, messy foodstuffs, or other permitted substances at the opposition.