There are plenty of ways to celebrate Halloween. You could dress up in your spookiest outfit or you could watch scary movies and hand out candy. Folks in Denton gear up for the holiday with a different sort of tradition. One that sends them sprinting downhill in vehicles of death. So the Art&Seek crew went to Denton’s Day of the Dead Festival to find out about the 5th Annual Coffin Race.
Denton’s annual Day of the Dead Festival features a pumpkin patch, a salsa competition, a parade and several other family friendly events. But the festival is really known for one thing – Coffin Races.
The coffin races are exactly what they sound like, people racing in coffins. Except these coffins aren’t the sort that you get buried in. These coffins are more like soap box racers that are built by amateurs with one thing in mind, going fast. Just ask coffin racer Micheal Little. He says he’s got one concern when it comes to racing, “losing.”
Little’s driving a coffin named “Live to Ride and Ride to Lunch.” And he’s taking on 69 other teams.
So how do these races work? Well, two coffins race down Denton’s Hickory Street, which is a steep main drag in town, and they stop by crashing into hay bales at the bottom of the hill.
But not all of the race cars actually look like coffins. Tex Bosley, a local business owner and champion of all things Denton, says his car is one of an increasingly fewer percentage of cars that are actually designed to look like a coffin. His car is named SarCARphagus and it’s painted black. The interior is lined with crushed red velvet. And it’s shaped like something Dracula would live in.
“You know it’s a coffin race, but there are so few rules,” says Bosley. “I think that’s great because it really allows all of the contestants to be as creative as they want to be.”
And boy are they creative. There’s a “Stranger Things” themed coffin named “The Wynona Rider,” an Evel Knievel inspired coffin equipped with a driver in a red, white and blue leather stunt suit, and a terrifying street luge racer designed by a man who goes by the name Catfish.
” Our car expands to about a 25-foot street luge,” says Catfish. “And then we have an 11-foot push bar, so everybody has 20 feet to push in, this gives us about 55 feet to push.”
Catfish is an employee at Eastside Denton, a local bar with its own car in the race. He had to ruffle some feathers and upset a few friends this year, because he decided to work with another local business in order to get his street luge racer into the race.
Catfish says, ““This is not a good week for us at Eastside. They hate me and I hate them.”
The race plays to a big crowd with several thousand people watching and partaking in the other events at the festival. People like Robin Scott and her family. This is their first time at the festival and she says they’re loving it.
“We just moved to Denton,” says Scott. “I couldn’t love this any more. It’s a wonderful crowd. Everyone is in a happy mood. I thought it’d be a lot more messy, (laughs) but thankfully not. The coffins are great. A lot of creativity. It’s awesome.”
The festival even drew some protesters who worry that the theme dabbles in cultural appropriation. One of those protesters was Cynthia Ponciano. She says that if you’re going to use the name “Day of the Dead Festival” then you should include some actual Dia de los Muertos traditions in the festival.
“There are many ways to be include traditions,” says Ponciano. “We could put in alters. They can make the MCs inform people about what the day means. You know, it doesn’t have to be so extreme and historical.”
Ponciano says, if you can’t add the traditions to the festival, then the organizers should at least rename the festival after the main event – the Coffin Races.
Back at the main event, about an hour before dusk, the final races were set to begin and Bosley’s “SarCARphagus” gears up to take on Victor Ambrosio’s three-wheeled, aerodynamic vehicle aptly named “The Bullet.”
The race is close, but the speedy Bullet explodes past “SarCARphagus” to take the title. Ambrosio had this to say about burying the competition.
“Oh man it’s awesome. It is the greatest experience I’ve had in a long time. It’s great,” says Ambrosio.
After winning Ambrosio and his team celebrate like all great champions do these days, they put on goggles, pop the Champaign and let it rain. And Ambrosio thrust his trophy – a Mexican sugar skull inspired piece – into the air with a smile as wide as a skeleton.