Oh Wow! Teaches Physics with Hot Wheels Cars

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Central Square will become Hot Wheels heaven Sunday afternoon.

Side-by-side tracks, each 1,000 feet long, will snake their way around the streets and walkways as part of Silly Science Sunday, the annual free family event presented by Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology.

The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the facility will be free during those hours. Children of all ages can bring their fastest Hot Wheels car – or use one provided by Oh Wow – and race them against others.

A stage will be set up in the middle of Central Square, which will be closed to traffic. Cars will begin their run from a platform behind the stage, starting from a height of 17 feet, going down at a 45 degree angle and through the course, then finishing near the starting line.

Colleen Ruby, director of operations at Oh Wow!, expects at least 5,000 people to come to the event, which she said is the most labor intensive stunt they have ever done.

“There’s also more pressure with this one because there is an element of ‘something could go wrong,’ ” she said.

Ralf Urbach, director of edutainment, said even if problems arise, they will roll with it. The complete layout, he said, has never been assembled, much less road tested.

“We have tested it in pieces,” said Urbach. “You just have to have faith. If something isn’t working, we can take it apart and rearrange it and still have fun.”

The first 1,000 kids can select a car to race and then keep it. They can also bring their own car to race.

Sweeney Chevrolet donated 1,000 cars – split between Corvettes and Chevy pickup trucks – for the day, and Western Reserve Public Broadcasting Service bought the track and battery-powered speed boosters.

Hot Wheels miniature race cars, and the orange plastic tracks they run on, have been made by Mattel Inc., for more than 50 years. Countless men – and women – played with them as children. It’s a toy that bridges generations, but on Silly Science Sunday, it will also connect fun with learning.

Workers prepare part of the 1,000-foot track.

Ruby said the idea came out of a Silly Science Sunday committee meeting but took a while to pick up speed. It was early in the year, before the GM Lordstown Assembly Plant closed.

“The idea was to go for the world record and tie it to the Drive It Home campaign to save the plant,” she said.

The high cost of having Guinness Book of World Records officials attend the attempt ruled that out that possibility. Plus, the current record of 1,838 feet – set last year in Moscow, Russia – would have been impossible to top.

So they decided to go with twin tracks of 1,000 feet apiece, which will at least be a Youngstown record, Ruby said.

Sweeney Chevrolet was hoping to find American-made Hot Wheels cars, which also proved impossible. Oh Wow actually experimented with 3D printed cars that were made in Youngstown but the prototypes were nowhere near fast enough. So the Malaysia-made official Hot Wheels cars – all of them Chevrolets – got the nod.

After the initial drop, the cars will go through a five-foot-high loop built by Oh Wow! facilities manager Alex Rubino and former interns Jared Bryarly and Ciera Flickinger, who are both engineering students at Youngstown State University. Speed boosters will be inserted into the track about every 25 feet.

“As adults, we all wish we could have [made a track] this big as kids,” said Rubino. “But we’ll explain the science of it, so it’s fun and educational. Sometimes all it takes is something like this to prove that math can be fun.”

A speedometer will clock the cars shortly after the loop and a scoreboard will show speeds to the crowd. Some cars are hitting speeds of up to 7.5 mph, but because the cars are 1/64th size models, that translates to about 440 mph, Urbach said.

While racing the cars will be fun for the kids, physics lessons will be an inherent part of the day.

“It goes way beyond playing with Hot Wheels,” said Urbach. “It’s about bringing in people who love science, and it’s a neat opportunity to get together.”

In addition to the giant Hot Wheels track, Silly Science Sunday will include exhibitions by the YSU College of STEM, Austintown Home Depot, Ward Beecher Planetarium, Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor, Mahoning Valley Historical Society, YWCA of Youngstown, Youngstown Fire Department, Green Youngstown and The Green Team, NASA, Mahoning Soil & Water Conservation District and more.

Motorists should take note that Central Square and West Federal Street between Phelps and Market streets, will be closed to traffic from noon Saturday to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Pictured above: Ciera Flickinger, facilities assistant; Jared Bryarly, facilities intern; Elainie Huncik, junior edutainer; and Jane Castro, edutainer, get the track and cars ready for this weekend.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.