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Pumpkin Race Aims to 'Make Autism Work'

Oct 21, 2016 10:51AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Ready to roll? The 26th annual World Famous Manhattan Beach Pumpkin Race is set to launch on Sunday, October 23 with family-friendly fun and heart-racing thrills - and a new fundraising arm to assist neurodiverse young adults.

The World Famous Pumpkin Race is a unique side-by-side single elimination race featuring handcrafted, decorated pumpkin racers in a funky, hilarious, suspenseful, and dramatic display of American ingenuity. Excitement builds as pumpkin racers battle head-to-head for the coveted Pumpkin Race Championship Trophy. Pumpkin racers also compete for Best Decoration, Most Innovative Design, and Best Crash.

The pumpkin race was created in Manhattan Beach on Halloween Eve in 1990 by Karl Rogers, Michael Aaker and John Holliday. They invented the Pumpkin Racer design and developed the Pumpkin Race format for guests attending Karl's birthday party. 

The race has since grown into a major city-wide event that attracts tens of thousands of people to Manhattan Beach and more than 100 similar races around the country.

Founder Karl Rogers went on to develop Smashing Success, LLC, a pumpkin race company that uses the community-based event to help create a better future for adults living with autism and other neurodiversities. The company offers specially branded pumpkin race products that are assembled and packed by a neurodiverse workforce in partnership with public and private non-profit transition programs across the country.

This year's race is the first to feature the Pumpkin Race to Make Autism Work in the South Bay fundraiser, which will benefit the non-profit MBUSD CHOICE Booster Club. The MBUSD CHOICE Booster Club, a sub-organization of the MBX Foundation, supports the MBUSD CHOICE transition program - a program by the Manhattan Beach Unified School District to address long-term community needs for neurodiverse students. Through the fundraiser, pumpkin racers can form a team, join a team, or simply make a donation.

According to Rogers, “This exciting new chapter of the pumpkin race builds on our successful partnerships with the City of Manhattan Beach, LAcarGUY, Downtown Business Professional Association, Zislis Group, GROW, and other local businesses. It is with a profound sense of purpose that we dedicate our company’s mission to using the attraction of our Pumpkin Race tradition to help young adults on the autism spectrum succeed in their transition from high school to adult life.”

The MBUSD CHOICE booster club supports students in the MBUSD CHOICE program with the extra vocational training and local employment opportunities they need to live and work as neurodiverse young adults. It also aims to expand local employment options for MBUSD’s neurodiverse population by helping to establish partnerships with local businesses, local government agencies, and others to promote neurodiversity in local workplaces and the community.

Kay Holliday, founding president of the CHOICE Program Booster Club, said that the partnership was a good fit with the event. “Because of our personal experience raising an autistic child we have always welcomed people of all abilities to participate in our annual Pumpkin Race and have been raising awareness and resources to support local families living with autism for over 10 years. It feels great to partner with the CHOICE program to create pathways leading to long-term employment for young adults in our own community,” she said. 

Megan Atkins, executive director of special education at MBUSD, added that the pumpkin race was a great opportunity to think 'outside the box' for opportunities for students.  “This partnership significantly enhances our ability to develop access to local employment for our CHOICE program graduates.”

To read more about the MBUSD CHOICE program and its partnership with the pumpkin race, read MBUSD CHOICE Transition Program Helps Neurodiverse Students.

If you're headed down to the races (noon to 5:00 p.m. at the Manhattan Beach Pier) on Sunday, the rules are simple: Decorate a single pumpkin and run two independent axles through the body of the pumpkin, with the wheels (no larger than 12 inches in diameter) attached to the axles. Pumpkins may not be attached to a prefabricated chassis of any kind (skateboard, stroller, Tonka Truck, etc.); and no sharp objects, explosives, or pyrotechnics are allowed.

If you need help building your pumpkin racer, stop by the Race Genius Booth for friendly help and encouragement.

At the race, look out for "Cheater Pumpkins," usually watermelons, which are in violation of the Official World Famous Pumpkin Race Rules. The penalty for racing a Cheater Pumpkin is instant destruction by the Mallet-O-Justice (a large wooden mallet) administered by the Head Race Official. (Don't worry, kids, the Head Race Official has never smashed a person's Pumpkin Racer without his or her permission.)

May the best pumpkin win!

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