Let those zucchini roll
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó Parents encouraged kids to play with their food Thursday at the first Zucchini 500 at the N.C. Research Campus.
More than 50 race cars crafted from zucchini, celery, peppers and other veggies entered the event, although not all made it down the 16-foot ramps intact.
“Oh, structural failure!” said Bobby Waltrip of the legendary Waltrip racing family, who called the races. “With major trouble at the end of the ramp, I see three tires, four feathers and a rhubarb rolling down through the crowd.”
N.C. State University, one of eight schools with a presence on the Research Campus, organized the event to publicize the weekly campus farmers market and encourage kids to try new foods.
The campus, founded by Dole Food Co. owner David Murdock, focuses on health and nutrition research.
Every entrant walked away with a prize, and parents seemed to have just as much fun as their children.
“We have our first summer garden,” said Robin Riggs, who lives across the street from the life sciences center in downtown Kannapolis. “We have about six billion zucchini, so we had a few to spare.”
With G.I. Joe riding astride their zucchini, Noah Riggs, 4, and sister Zoe Riggs, 6, watched with excitement as their entry advanced through the winner’s bracket. Eventually, however, Sloan Blinsink, 9, won the under-10 category with a small but super-fast zucchini featuring a radish for a driver.
“The kids are so creative,” said Leah Chester-Davis, community outreach coordinator for the N.C. State Program for Value-Added & Alternative Agriculture. “These cars are amazing.”
Finding a sturdy way to attach the wheels proved crucial. Wheels from toy trucks and skateboards were poked, taped and glued to zucchinis.
One entrant even used rubber bands to strap his zucchini to the bottom of a roller skate.
“The kids did a good job, but I think there were a lot of daddies who missed work today,” Waltrip said.
In the 10-and-over category, Matthew Cline, 13, bested Dr. Jim Smith with a large zucchini mounted atop an unusual three-wheeled chassis.
Smith, who’s retired from the University of Illinois and married to Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of the N.C. State Plants for Human Health Institute, happily admitted defeat.
“What a great event,” he said. “Anything to support the farmers market.”
Judge Jay White, chairman of the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners, said choosing winners in categories like Most Nutritious and Most School Spirit was tough, and the creators were “ingenious.”
In the aftermath of news Wednesday that major tenant Pharmaceutical Product Development Inc. has pulled out of the campus, White said the $1.5 billion biotech complex is still a tremendous development.
“I’m sorry that PPD is not staying, but it is not going to effect the campus overall in the long run,” White said.