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Homecoming, Before the Football

A veritable triathlon of engineering, physical prowess, and ingenuity.

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The Mini 500 on Brittain Drive
Ziad Ammar

Whether it’s riding a tricycle around Peters’ Parking Deck, sprinting up Freshman Hill in hot pursuit of cake before the crack of dawn, or driving a contraption down Techwood Drive, homecoming week is more than just the football game. The weekend wouldn’t be complete without the great Tech traditions, which uniquely embody the Georgia Tech spirit every fan knows and loves, that take place in the lead-up to the big game Saturday night.

Walk down the streets of campus this week, and you’ll see pomp set up on every lawn and banners in the windows. The lawns are trimmed and pigs are roasted. Whether it’s Mock Rock or Powderpuff Football, everyone has their own favorite activity in the lead-up to homecoming weekend. Walk around as a wide-eyed newcomer, and there’s quite a lot to take in. Though the games are fun and the displays intricate, it all is a crescendo to the exhilaration of the homecoming game, and several of Tech’s most treasured traditions.

The Freshman Cake Race traces its roots to a cross country event first held in 1911, open to any student. In the beginning, it was several miles long, off campus, and not on homecoming. Only in 1913 did it start to feature cakes for the winners, baked by parents, faculty, and girlfriends of Tech men. Nowadays, winners still get cakes, but everyone who competes in this time-honored tradition gets a cupcake as well. By 1935, it had assumed the form we know today: a pre-dawn, half-mile freshman-only sprint, usually culminating in a climb up Freshman Hill the morning of the homecoming football game. Once Tech started accepting women to the Institute, and electing a homecoming queen, the male winner also received a kiss. With a Mr. GT now being elected too, the female winner is not left out. Though the race has evolved from its origins as a scouting exercise for the track coach, the legendary Dean George Griffin, it is still an integral event run by the Ramblin’ Reck Club each homecoming.

Later on Saturday morning is the Wreck Parade. Not many people get to drive the contraptions, classic cars, and fixed bodies down the parade route, and though the experience is fascinating from the sidewalk, driving down the street is surreal. “I was really worried I was going to stall out,” recalls Zoë Sieling, who drove a family heirloom Model A last year, “It was amazing to see all the students, the alumni, and families watch the parade...I felt so much love for the Georgia Tech community as a whole.”

The parade, which was originally a no holds barred, off-road race to Athens, lives on in the form of a much tamer procession the morning before every Homecoming game, after the administration decided a high-speed race down unpaved roads in questionably safe cars was a bad idea. The substitute parade of contraptions has continued ever since, with the exception of 1942 and 1943, due to gas shortages, later adding classic cars and fixed bodies as well. The contraption vehicles are still a sight to behold. Each machine is constructed by students, powered in a plethora of ways, from gravity to whirling bowling balls. Tech students, a cunning bunch, always amaze with their creations. The years advance, but watching Tech’s own 1930 Model A sport coupe lead the way never grows old.

A relatively new tradition, the Mini 500 has been sponsored by Reck Club since 1969. The race, which is eight laps around Peters’ Parking Deck, sounds straightforward enough. It is, after all, four corners and four straightaways. Picture the finish: a hundred cheering college kids, two tricycles, going up a hill, to win points in an arbitrary competition. Senior mechanical engineer Charlie Hanzel says the Mini 500 is a perfect metaphor for Georgia Tech, because “you know when the assignment is due, you know all of the steps necessary to be good at the assignment, and you tell yourself you’re gonna do well on it. Except, on Thursday night at 11:59, you’re frantically trying to finish your project. The next day, it could very well fall apart in the most spectacular way possible.” Tech ingenuity shines throughout the race.

It is general consensus by the From the Rumble Seat staff that this 2009 Georgia Tech advertisement is one of its best. It exemplifies the sprit of the Institute, which, as Todd Stansbury says, is where innovation meets excellence. The unique and endearing traditions are no different. Starting this afternoon, it’s time to celebrate the homecoming game as only the Georgia Institute of Technology can.

Friday, October 20th:

5:00 PM Mini 500 at Peters’ Parking Deck

7:00 PM Tech Volleyball hosts Syracuse at O’Keefe Gymnasium on ACC Network Extra

7:30 PM Surround Sound marching band concert at the Ferst Center for the Arts

Saturday, October 21st:

6:30 AM Freshman Cake Race starting at McCamish Pavilion

9:00 AM Wreck Parade on Techwood Drive

4:45 PM Yellow Jacket Alley on Brittain Drive

5:45 PM Band Warmups at the Kessler Campanile

7:30 PM Toe meets leather at Bobby Dodd as Tech football hosts Wake Forest on ESPNU