The Great Maker Race

The Great Maker Race lets kids of all ages design, build, decorate, and race cars down an exciting wavy track!

What is the Great Maker Race?

Drillerator 4000

Drillerator 4000

Maker Works brings the Great Maker Race to events like Maker Faire Detroit, the Ann Arbor Creativity and Making Expo, Maker Girl Mania!, and others.  Our goal with the Great Maker Race is to give people an exciting “Making” experience, one that encourages creativity, using a design/build/test process, and is accessible to a wide range of ages.  And of course we’ve used a wide range of our tools in building the Great Maker Race, from custom-designed circuit boards, laser-cut acrylic, CNC-cut plywood, metal brackets, and even the one-of-a-kind “Drillerator 4000” for drilling all 4 car body holes at once.



The Great Maker Race is organized into stations.  At the first station, builders will sketch out the shape of their car on the Styrofoam body.  Car and truck shapes are common, but so are caterpillars, sharks, and other imaginative designs.


At the next station, builders use a custom-designed hot-wire foam cutter to cut out their design.  Each station has a helper who can assist young people or just orient the older builders.  Builders of all ages enjoy using what is for many a new and fascinating machine.  A HEPA and activated charcoal filter system keeps the fumes at bay, while the design of the cutter and car body holder keeps small fingers from the wire.


Now it’s off to the assembly station where wheels are nailed on.  Pre-drilled holes, special jigs, and appropriately-sized hammers let even young builders install wheels with the right spacing for an exciting race.


Every racer tests their car before the big race.  The test track and the assistant make sure the car is ready to go, or makes any slight adjustments necessary for everything to roll smoothly.  The car is entered into the race queue and the builder gets a colored ticket to let them know what race they’re in.

3, 2, 1, and they’re off!  Three cars race against time down the wavy track, timed to within 1/1000th of a second.  Watch out for the second hill–spectacular wipe-outs are part of the thrill!


Depending on the time available, builders can decorate their cars before or after racing and race their car multiple times.


Where Will the Great Maker Race Be?


Maker Faire Detroit, July 2014

Tech Twilight, Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, May 2015

Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire, June 2015

Maker Faire Detroit, July 2015

Maker Girl Mania, Clarkston, MI, April 2016

Take Your Kids to Work Day, private, April 2016

Tech Twilight/Daylight, Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, May 20-22, 2016

Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire, June 4, 2016 (free, open to public)

Maker Faire Detroit, July 30-31, 2016

Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire, June 3, 2017 (free, open to public)

Maker Faire Detroit, July 29-30, 2017.  Local news coverage:

Maker Girl Mania April 21st, 2018

Maker Faire Detroit The Henry Ford July 28-29 2018

Lean Enterprise Institute, Houston, TX March 27-28, 2019


Maker Faire Detroit The Henry Ford July 27-28 2019

Questions and Answers about the Great Maker Race

How much space does it take?

It depends on how many builders will go through in an hour.  On the high side, we can sustain about 100-120 builders an hour.  This would required at least a 40′ x 40′ area, not including spectator space and space for a line entering the area.  The track itself requires about 40′ of length, but for fewer builders per hour the stations can be smaller.

What ceiling height is required?

The regular configuration requires 10′ ceilings, and ends about 24″ above the floor.  A small set of steps in this configuration lets even younger volunteers launch the cars.

How many people are required to run the Great Maker Race?

Again, it depends on the number of builders per hour.  For the maximum rate of 100-120 builders/hour, we need about 24 people staffing stations, plus a couple of staff floating.  At the other extreme, for a small group of older builders (say 10 years old and up), just a few staff would be sufficient.  We can work with volunteers (probably ages 10-12 and up, depending on maturity), which requires a brief 10 minute or so orientation.

How much time does it take to build a car?

It depends on the age and capability of the builder, but around 10-15 minutes.  This means the first race will be 15 minutes after the first few builders enter, and thereafter about one race of 3 cars every minute and a half (for the maximum number of stations).  Or, put another way, a new builder can enter on average every half minute.  For few stations, the throughput will be lower.

What are the cars made of?

The car bodies are made of 1/2″ thick MDF (medium density fiberboard), to which 2″ thick styrofoam is attached.  The wheels and spacers are laser-cut 1/8″ baltic plywood, and nails are used for axles.  Decorations are typically applied with double-stick tape–white glue gets messy and takes a while to set, while hot glue has safety issues.

Are there options for customization?

With enough notice, we may be able to stamp the bottom of the car bodies with your logo.

What noise and other issues are there?

With a larger group, we do like to announce the race using a small PA system, since builders will want to know what race their car is in.  There will also be little scraps of styrofoam, parts that fall off of crashed cars, etc., so a floor that sweeps up easily is a plus.  We use a very nice activated charcoal filter system, but there is an occasional whiff of melted foam, though even indoors it has not been an issue.  For safety, we do ask that builders not run in or near the activity, and that very young people are accompanied by responsible helpers.  We bring stools for the very youngest to be able to use the foam cutters, and other activities are at regular table height.

How much does it cost?

We’re continuing to become more efficient in how we set up and run the Great Maker Race, but it still takes a surprising amount of labor to prepare and run the activity.  Please contact us for a quote with the following information:  date(s) and hours of event, location, setup and teardown times, area available (x ft by y ft), ceiling height, total number of cars to build, rate of car building, number of volunteers available, main contact person name/email/phone, age ranges of builders, if builders under the age of 8 will be accompanied, if tables will be provided (about 13 buffet tables maximum).  Lots of information, but it will let us figure out things like how many staff we’ll need, how many car bodies to make up, cost of renting a truck, and so on.

Does Maker Works rent out the track?

Not at the moment, at least for events outside of Maker Works.  The track and other elements are not really hardened enough yet for us to send them out into the cold, cruel world on their own, and it’s important to us that everyone has a great experience at the Great Maker Race.

Can we make our own Great Maker Race?

Please do, though we ask that you make up your own name.  Check out the Nerdy Derby folks at for a different take on a “no rules” derby activity–they have a design for a similar track.  We hope to make plans available for the timer and perhaps other elements.