Southern Polytechnic State University (or simply Southern Tech) in Marietta is my alma mater. My father owned a tire shop in nearby Smyrna and once a year we would take a ride over to Southern Tech for a magical event…The Southern Tech Bathtub Races! Almost overnight the Southern Tech campus transformed into a mini Road Atlanta, complete with pedestrian bridge. I seem to recall my Dad’s shop supplying some of the tires that were used to outline the track (and create a laughable safety barrier). You could hear the screaming engines from Cobb Parkway to the Marietta Square. The bathtub races drew huge crowds from the entire Atlanta area and captured my young imagination to the point of choosing my college before reaching middle school.
The rules were pretty simple, take a cast iron bathtub and make it go fast. Originally the tubs were just on wheels and pushed by frat brothers. But Southern Tech was an engineering school, so it didn’t take long before someone figured out that while the rules stated the driver had to be inside the tub, the propulsion could be located outside of it. This lead to rear engine and side engine carts complete with safety cages. At its height the “bathtubs” were little more than fire breathing shifter carts powered by screaming Rotax two-stroke engines.
By the early 90s school officials finally realized that the “bathtubs” were approaching true racecar status. The traditional race course was fine back in the 70s when the tubs were slower, but now speeds around the track were rumored to be hitting 70+ mph on the main straight. The tubs were showing no sign of slowing down as the engineering students did their best to make them stick and move. Sadly the last motorized race was held in 1992.
Today Southern Tech is no more, consumed by the neighboring Kennesaw State University for reasons only the Georgia Board of Regents understands. The bathtub races have returned but only to their traditional hand pushed roots. Now it is more of a soapbox derby down a campus hill…meh. And while I’m sure the parties around the event are fun, the sound of running shoes on asphalt will never reach Highway 41 the same way a Rotax two-stroke at 6k RPM did.
Make sure to check out the cool video below for more on the history of the race.