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Hot rods and hot chili

Sarah Dixon

You may get your chance this Saturday at the fourth annual Colorado Mountain Express Big Wheel Classic and Chili Fest in Vail Village.

That’s right, it’s a Big Wheel race.

This wannabe funny car festival involves stuffing fully grown adults into rickety plastic cars more suited, according to manufacturers, for children ages 4 to 10.

“The last time I was on a Big Wheel, I was 8 years old,” said Mike Feichtinger, who drove his Big Wheel – and his team from 8150 – to victory last year. “I’m 26 now and I love it. I wish I was 10 years old again.”

Feichtinger’s team was clocked at a top speed of 35 mph, according to a source close to the Big Wheel races.

The first heat is at noon Saturday, when the teams will line up at the starting line at the top of Bridge Street and begin the madcap, let-it-all-hang-out race toward the finish near the deck of Pepi’s.

The teams consist of four members: a pusher, to set the toy car in motion; a rider, to steer the vehicle; and two catchers, to run block the careening coupe in case it’s headed for disaster on the deck of the Ore House.

Big Wheel racing isn’t exactly the Tour de France.

“Don’t take it too seriously,” said Steve Kovacik, a catcher on the reigning champions from 8150.

Considering Big Wheels are a children’s toy, any advice for the youngsters hoping to make the Big Wheel race circuit?

“Kid, don’t try this at home,” he said.

Anyone 18 years and older may register with a team for the race. To register, contact Joe Blair at 477-0111, ext. 12. Registration closes at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Big Wheel action continues into the afternoon Saturday as national, regional and local celebrities compete in the Celebrity Classic Division to raise money for First Descents, a kayak camp for young adults with cancer. Scheduled to participate in the race are six-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken; Greg, Bo and Slacker of Denver’s Alice 106 radio; gubernatorial candidate Rollie Heath; pro kayaker Brad Ludden; and Tom Rouen of the Denver Broncos.

Between suspenseful races down Bridge Street, there should be plenty of time to sample prize chili from the dozens of restaurants showing off spicy concoctions in this year’s Chili Fest.

Last year’s chili highlights included Cascade Resort’s 15 gallons of wild boar chili – topped with mango habanero salsa – which was gone in a few hours.

“People came back three or four times, some six or seven,” said chef Carlos Salcedo.

On Saturday and Sunday, some of Colorado’s best up and coming bands will play on stages throughout the Vail Village, event spokesman Ian Anderson said.

And, of course, there will be beer.

This year’s festivities carry over into Sunday, beginning with Vail’s Big Brunch, where local restaurants will be serving their morning munchies from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

At noon, the goofball competitions resume with the Big Wheel Big Air competition, which features riders launching themselves off a specially designed ramp in a quest to become the first-ever Big Wheel jumping champion.

There’s a fine line between champion and lunatic.

Later, spectators can catch the fast and furious action of the Robinson Dairy Restaurant Olympics, where Vail’s top waiters and waitresses will battle it out in zany races to determine who is the best server in the valley.

They’re not expected to be riding Big Wheels.

For more information on the event, visit the Web site at http://www.bigwheelvail.com.


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