The Idiots Were Off And Running

Racers sprint to a checkpoint in the Idiotarod, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2006. (CBS/Gina Pace)
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This story was written By's Christine Lagorio and Gina Pace

With a rapid-fire of popguns and a lackluster sprinkling of confetti, the idiots were off.

Idiots in real life they might not be, but this was the "Idiotarod," a two-borough sprint from Brooklyn to Manhattan with the participants strapped to shopping carts and decked out in Halloween-like garb. There was a Barrel of Monkeys, a team of Chiquita bananas and the obligatory Wes Anderson-film inspired teams.

In other words, it was a celebration of all things Idiot.

Organizer Jeff Stark started the annual race three years ago, and on Saturday, at the starting point in Fort Green Park, Brooklyn, N.Y., he was in charge — but inconspicuously wearing a gleaming white jumpsuit with a red shopping cart neatly embroidered on the right breast.

"I'm in the race," Stark said. "I mean, this whole thing is so I can run around and be stupid with my friends."

The race is a guerrilla-style free-for-all that attracts 20- and 30-somethings from as far away as Washington, D.C. each year. Race plans are closely guarded in order to evade the media and the New York City cops, who threaten to put a stop to the drinking and chaos of the 800 participants.

In the Idiotarod — unlike the Iditarod, the annual long-distance Alaska dog sled race that provides inspiration — most of the rules are optional. And at a sunny 58 degrees, the weather in New York Saturday did nothing to remind the racers of the frozen Alaskan tundra.

Teams of five (four runners and one musher) per cart must make it to two checkpoints and the finish line with their cart. Inebriation is allowed, and even encouraged. The cart must be intact, and four rubber wheels must be used. Teams can choose any route they want to make it to the checkpoints.

"Whether a New Yorker is in a cab or behind a shopping cart, they always know the best route," said co-organizer Maureen Flaherty, explaining their reluctance to mandate a set route.

Sabotage is not only allowed, but officially encouraged by a prize.

Team Cobra, all donning ominous red jumpsuits, had the sabotage down.

"We made a fake checkpoint and padlocked heavy objects like tires to people's carts," said Christian Jones, who traveled to New York from his home in Washington, D.C. for the race. "It would just drag."

Team Cobra wasn't just a five-member team. It was five five-member teams, who ran with four regular carts and one centerpiece cart topped with a shiny, oven-sized cobra head — that spit fire.

In addition, Cobra had 10 to 15 members designated solely as saboteurs. If trying to rattle other teams with verbal threats or stealing needed paperwork to pass through checkpoints didn't work, they got physical. Two members launched their bodies onto an Indiana Jones-inspired cart while it was crossing the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan. Their strategy worked, though, as the team took home the Best in Show award.