Croner brothers bring gravity racer ‘home’
Growing up in Lake Stevens in the late 60s was very different than it is today. Just ask Brian and Matt Croner who grew up with a dozen other kids on and around Cedar and Oak Roads.
The Croner family and many of their neighbors, had very little money and were always trying to find ways to entertain themselves, many of those involved gliding down the curvy Oak Road on homemade soapbox cars, bikes and even sleds.
“Living on that road I have some of the fondest memories as a kid. We were quite poor. We were always finding stuff to do. We were always trying to find ways to go down that road. The road has pretty sharp turns and we named it Dead Man’s Curve. I flew off of it three times as a kid. On a soapbox racer, my bike and another time on a sled when I was 13 or 14,” Brian Croner said. “Sometimes we just didn’t make the turn and flew off into the woods.”
After connecting with friends from Lake Stevens through Facebook, the brothers decided to build a gravity racer and bring it ‘home’ to their friends and their hill.
Now almost 40 years later, the Croners returned to Lake Stevens from their homes in Idaho last weekend to try their luck on ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ just one more time. They and their friends gathered on Saturday to do just that.
What’s a gravity racer? A gravity racer is a motorless vehicle capable of holding a driver built for the purpose of racing or recreation. They are propelled by gravity.
Originally, gravity racers were built from wooden soap crates and rollerskate wheels, but have grown more sophisticated over time, with materials like aluminum, fiberglass and even Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer or CFRP.
The Croners took two BMX bikes and turned them upside down to create their own gravity racer.
“My brother Matt was a huge part of making this happen. He has built Hot Rods from scratch,” Brian said. “We were going to originally make a box but we started thinking about that corner and we didn’t want to start flying off. This has been something that has been in the back of my mind for a couple of years.”
Adding brakes was essential in this adult world of racing so both front and back brakes were put on the sleek racer.
“We wanted it to stop in one piece,” Matt said.
The brothers constructed the racer and brought it to their old neighborhood and let anyone who dared, take it for a ride down Dead Man’s Curve.
“They built it for the sole purpose of bringing the old neighborhood together and reenacting the growing up years. A bunch of us remember growing up on Cedar hill where making soapbox cars was one of the things the boys were always doing. Brian and his brother Matt are a wealth of memories and history,” Carolyn Johnston said.
There were rumors that a developer was going to purchase a lot of the property in that area and change the road so Brian and Matt decided this was the best time to test out their racer.
“I’m 55 now and there were rumors that a developer was going to take it over and change the road. That has fallen through now and the road is exactly the same,” Brian said. “But we still want to try to relive a part of our past. It was one of those things we were always joking around about.”
The black racer has a plastic shell, a comfy seat, a roll bar and it even has an ashtray and fuzzy dice to “class it up!”
“This thing is about as sound as it’s going to get. Some of them can go up to 48 miles an hour and one even went 65 mph. We really don’t know how fast this car can go. We made the thing darn safe for anybody to drive,” Brian explained.
The road drops eight feet and goes into the corner, which means you’re accelerating into the corner. If we really turned it loose maybe we could hit 40 mph,” Matt said.
Longtime friend and past Oak Road resident Jim Knapp was there to cheer the boys on and to try the racer himself. Knapp’s ride was quite eventful seeing that the front brakes didn’t work at first.
“It was great, it was a little tough to slow down without any front brakes,” Knapp said. “Thank God for Facebook. It brought us all back together again.”
After their weekend in Washington the two are taking the racer back to Idaho where they are planning a 10-mile run.