When it comes to da Vinci Days, the family that races kinetic sculptures together, gets wet and muddy together. This year, Reed Lacy, his wife Lynn Nichols and their daughters Ellie and Emily — also known as “Secret Racing Clan” — let the Gazette-Times follow them through a weekend of the Graand Kinetic Challenge.
Reed, a software engineer at Hewlett-Packard, got hooked on GKC years ago when he was on a co-worker’s team. The challenge of designing a sculpture that could traverse dirt, pavement, sand, mud and water was right up his alley.
“He’s always tinkering with stuff,” said daughter Emily Lacy-Nichols, 22.
This year’s creation was, like past years, based on a tandem bicycle. Two outer, large back wheels could be lowered to the ground and attached with a bike chain to basically give the bike a very low gear.
“So you pedal like mad and don’t move very fast, which is what you need in sand and mud,” Reed said.
Every family member takes part in the weekend: Emily designed the team flag, featuring a black-and-white graphic of Leonardo da Vinci wearing sunglasses and a fedora. Ellie Lacy-Nichols, 10, had the task of choosing a stuffed animal to ride the sculpture. Lynn was a rider and in charge of making bribes for judges. The third daughter of the clan, Jennifer, 24, has been part of the team in years past, but she’s currently in Japan. The last family member, a Yorkshire terrier named Thor, has had little to do with the GKC so far.
The family likes racing, but it means sacrificing other festival events. In order to maintain some balance, they only compete every couple of years.
“My hope is to finally, some year, land on a design that actually works,” Reed said.
The festival begins
Friday evening, Emily, Reed and family member Meg Grace performed the team’s song during the song and dance portion of the GKC. The song is, of course, performed to the tune of “Secret Agent Man” and begins:
We’re a clan that leads a life of danger
The things we ride keep getting stranger
On Saturday, Reed and Emily rode in Leo’s Kinetic Parade, while Ellie walked with a bubble gun.
Although Ellie is an enthusiastic helper, she can’t ride the sculpture until she’s 12. Then she can be a “barnacle,” or passenger.
There’s actually official GKC rule on barnacles “inspired by” one of the family’s past entries. When the girls were younger, Lynn didn’t feel comfortable letting them ride in the river on their “Cheshire Cat” sculpture. So Reed’s mother took their place for the water portion. Now, the “Cheshire Cats Don’t Mix With Water” rule states that for the river leg, barnacles “may be replaced with their equivalent in non-human weight.”
After the parade, Lynn and Reed headed to the fairgrounds to take on the sand dune climb.
Last time they raced, “we got about 10 feet up the sand dune, and the wheel came unscrewed,” Reed said.
“You’re leaving out the fact that they were laughing at you because it was the second time you’d done that,” Lynn said.
This year, they started listing to one side about 10 feet from the top. Other racers rushed to help steady the sculpture, and SRC conquered the hill.
Lynn, who had never participated in the sand dune challenge before, was scared of going back down the dune. So she closed her eyes and put her face against Reed’s back.
“Apparently, you have to pedal to go down,” she said.
The final challenges
Sunday morning, the family assembled at the mud bog near the Crystal Lake boat ramp. After the sand dune experience, Reed and Lynn decided to have some spotters for the mud and quickly rounded up some volunteers.
SRC entered the mud confidently but stopped. Reed and Lynn hopped off, sinking in mud to their knees.
The culprit, it turned out, wa as broken chain. SRC was moved to the side of the course as the team, and helpers, tried to repair it.
Meanwhile, at the request of the announcer, Emily performed a solo rendition of “Secret Racing Clan” over the loudspeaker.
Reed gets the chain fixed, but it breaks again. Eventually, it becomes clear they won’t be able to finish the mud bog.
Unfazed, Lynn helps other teams through the mud and Reed drives to town to buy more chain.
“I didn’t think we were gonna break down, but that’s what you always think,” Reed said later. “You think it’s gonna work.”
Emily is Reed’s co-pilot for the river portion, a job she’s had before. Once, she remembers, they tipped over.
“The sheriff had to come get us in the boat,” she said.
This year, the river portion goes almost seamlessly. Emily and Reed pedal, then kneel atop the floats on the sides of the sculpture and paddle. At Michael’s Landing, they right the floats and successfully pedal up the bank to where Lynn and Ellie, who kayaked the river, are waiting.
At the awards ceremony Sunday evening, SRC finds out they’ve earned two first-place prizes: Best Song and Best Pageantry.
The family won’t be in da Vinci Days for another couple of years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t race at all. An upcoming competition in Klamath Falls has caught Reed’s eye. The theme is The Wizard of Oz.
“Thor,” Reed says, “would be a perfect Toto.”