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‘You’re in the hands of the gods’ – Red Bull soapbox veterans ride again

An action shot of the group’s A-Team Van at the Red Bull Soapbox Race at Roundhay Park, Leeds, in 2001 (Jonny Heath/PA)
An action shot of the group’s A-Team Van at the Red Bull Soapbox Race at Roundhay Park, Leeds, in 2001 (Jonny Heath/PA)

Four friends who have competed in every single English Red Bull Soapbox Race but are still aiming for their first podium finish said their advice to others would be “don’t take it too seriously”, adding “you’re in the hands of the gods once you get going”.

Tim Heath, 63, a retired headteacher and student, his brother Jonny Heath, 54, who works for a bank in IT, Mark Harrison, 52, a driving instructor, and Dave Bendall, 48, a civil servant, first competed in the race at Roundhay Park, Leeds, in 2001.

The Red Bull Soapbox Race challenges teams to prototype and create the wackiest homemade soapboxes – the friends’ first vehicle was an A-Team Van, which Mr Bendall said was “tiny and very poorly made”.

Two men standing next to a soapbox vehicle in a garden
Jonny Heath (R) and Dave Bendall next to the A-Team Van (Jonny Heath/PA)

Now, after more than 20 years of racing, the group are still aiming for their first podium finish, with their latest chance being June 22 at Alexandra Palace in their Battle Bus soapbox, which will be “big and bright”.

Advising teams competing for the first time, Mr Bendall told the PA news agency: “Don’t take it too seriously, it will be what it will be.

“You can have the best-designed soapbox in the world and something will break halfway down.

“There are people there who come up with these expensive, highly-engineered parts and, as soon as it goes over a ramp, something goes spectacularly wrong, and you get some that are cobbled together with cable ties and Gaffer tape that absolutely fly down.

“You’re in the hands of the gods once you get going.”

Four men in a soapbox designed to look like an Apollo rocket
The team’s soapbox, Apollo 50, in action in 2019 (Red Bull Content Pool)

Red Bull has held more than 100 soapbox races around the world since the original in Brussels in 2000, from Australia to the US and Italy.

The UK last hosted the event in 2022, when 20,000 spectators were treated to some of the wildest soapbox designs, inspired by the likes of Colin the Caterpillar, James Bond and Top Gun – this year 60 amateur teams will race down the infamous course at Alexandra Palace.

Each team has 20 seconds to wow the judges with crowd-pleasing antics before taking to the specially built track.

Tim Heath, who lives in Chippenham, Wiltshire, and Jonny Heath, Mr Bendall, and Mr Harrison, who live in Leeds, West Yorkshire, are “proud” to be the only team to have competed in every English Red Bull Soapbox Race, but joked that their performances have often been “more style over substance”.

A man painting a soapbox vehicle blue
Tim Heath painting the team’s Hair Force One soapbox (Jonny Heath/PA)

Using materials such as polystyrene, aluminium and papier-mache, the team said each soapbox, which relies solely on gravity to navigate a downhill course, takes about six months to make, and they have to choreograph a routine and make costumes as well.

“Jonny employed a choreographer one year, but it didn’t make any difference,” Tim said.

“One year we actually went to breakdancing lessons, that was pointless, and another year we had a friend try and teach us line-dancing moves,” Jonny Heath added.

The team have “come a long way” since their first entry, and are hoping to finally get on the podium this year and raise as much money as possible for Crisis.

Participants will be judged on creativity, speed and showmanship, with each team taking on four notable features of the Red Bull Soapbox Race track, including The Water Roller, The Wedge, The Bone Rattler and The Kicker, as well as a special feature from event partner, Unibond No More Nails.

Three men smiling in a soapbox with a car in the background
Jonny Heath, Dave Bendall and Mark Harrison (Jonny Heath/PA)

The team do not want to give away too much about their Battle Bus design for this year, as they are hoping to surprise the audience, but they said they love being creative and spending time together.

Mr Harrison said: “It’s just a great group of lads, having a laugh, we have a weekend away, and it’s just the four of us having fun – and that’s it.”

Red Bull Soapbox Race 2024 will take place on June 22 2024, at Alexandra Palace, north London.

For more information on buying tickets to attend, visit: redbull.com/gb-en/events/red-bull-soapbox-race-london.

To find out more about the team’s fundraiser, visit: justgiving.com/page/llamadrama.