Cari Bailey and Jimmy Felen push Pinocchio and Mickey Mouse down the starting ramp to officially start the Pumpkin 500

The Pumpkin 500

After a long draining week at work, Cheryl Bailey was finally headed home for the weekend, but this weekend wasn’t just an ordinary weekend, it was the weekend of the eighth annual Rancho Cucamonga pumpkin 500 race.

Pulling onto her quiet neighborhood street, she noticed all of her neighbors hard at work, turning their hand picked pumpkins into magical Halloween characters. Two champions would be crowned, one for best in show and the other for pure speed.

This year her pumpkin was no basic pumpkin, it was a 10-pound race-car fully costumed as Mr. Pinocchio himself. Her husband had spent hours using various power tools to create the ultimate aerodynamic machine.

“The eve of the race is a night in which the trash talking has begun and last minute characters are brought to life,” said Cheryl.

Tomorrow would be a big day as the 2016 Rancho Cucamonga pumpkin 500 race was about to commence and bragging rights would surely be established.

Chris works diligently on constructing the base to attach his wheels

The Pumpkin 500 began in 2008 with a simple idea of bringing the neighbor hood together for some Halloween fun. A pumpkin race was arranged where pumpkins would be dressed as Halloween characters, then have wheels attached and race down the main neighborhood street. Not only would a champion be crowned, but bragging rights for the year would be official. This event quickly turned into more than just a pumpkin race and now exemplifies the Halloween spirit in a close nit Rancho Cucamonga neighborhood.

Cheryl Bailey, the creator, has lived in the neighborhood for 20 plus years. She came up with a plan to create a pumpkin race with a few rules.

The pumpkins must be in full character, they must have wheels attached to their base, no chassis can be used, no explosives or pyrotechnics and no cheating of any kind! Also, each contestant must take the Pumpkin Racer Pledge:

“ I pledge to always do my very best and play by the rules because cheater pumpkins never prosper!”

The entire street shuts down the morning of the race and families set up their base for the day. Canopies are brought out and children’s excitement can be heard throughout the neighborhood. Neighbors chat while the racetrack is constructed.

“We love this event in our neighborhood and our kids talk about it all year, it’s something that brings our community together”, said Jane Collin a resident who participates every year.

Her family holds significant pride in this year’s race as they are the defending champions. Jane’s son Maverick didn’t sleep much the night before and spoke in a calm yet thrilled voice,

“I am so excited for today my pumpkin is fast and I want to be champion again!”

Pinocchio takes home first place for best in show!

Once the custom wooden starting block is set in place each family grabs their carefully constructed pumpkin with pride and heads towards judgment line. The first event is best in show. Each family lines up their pumpkin one next to another. Once the pumpkins are all set in place a specific resident of the community judges and critiques them.

John Dabber has been the community judge of the event for the last eight years.

“I am looking for uniqueness and overall quality of design,” John said. “Many hours have been put into creating these creatures so I must be very critical in selecting the winner.”

This line of pumpkins no longer resembled your standard orange pumpkin. There sat Mickey Mouse, Mini Mouse, Mr. Pinocchio, the Grinch and so many more. As residents sat and wait each family could be heard talking about whom they believed was the winner.

Finally, the scorecards were in, Mr. Pinocchio took first place! Second place would go to Mike Winooski from Monsters Inc, while third place was given to Mickey Mouse. Cheers of joy could be heard from the winning families while losing families gave each other looks of confusion. John the referee for the event quickly changed the mood and announced:

“it’s time for the race!”

John Dabber and a local resident fix a pumpkins wheels

The time had finally arrived and it was time to get the Pumpkin 500 race officially underway. A bracket system was established to ensure a qualified winner. The winner would be crowned not from a single race, but through a series of races that would eventually lead to a head to head match-up for the championship. With each race holding its weight in pride the atmosphere quickly changed. Families began chanting their pumpkins name.

The first race was Mickey Mouse Vs the Grinch. Each contestant placed their pumpkin on the starting block and held it there until the countdown began.

“On your mark, get set, GO”, said John Dabber the referee.

The street erupted as each family cheered on their specific pumpkin. Mickey Mouse quickly took a lead while The Grinch took a hard left and smashed into the curb. It was quickly apparent that not everything came down to speed, but could each pumpkin hold its line all the way to the finish. A series of races followed until the final championship match-up was set, Mr. Pinocchio Vs Mickey Mouse. Each pumpkin had shown its speed in the prelims and this surely was going to be a tight race.

Bragging rights for an entire year were on the line and each contestant grabbed their pumpkin and headed for the starting block.

Surrounding families chanted for their favorite pumpkin and then John the referee asked for silence,

“This is our final match-up, the winner of this race will take home the Pumpkin 500 crown” John said “On your mark, get set, go.”

Off they went, Mr. Pinocchio despite his long nose took an early lead and held his line consistently. It was surely Mr. Pinocchio’s race until all of a sudden Mickey Mouse began to gain ground on him. Here came Mickey Mouse barreling down the race track, but was there enough track left for him to win?

The answer was yes! Mickey Mouse came from behind to barely squeak out a victory by six inches. The 2016 winner of the Pumpkin 500 was Mickey Mouse and the Felan family! Jimmy Felan, a newer resident of the neighborhood was the creator of Mickey Mouse and proclaimed his joy,

“I’m ecstatic we won for my kids, this event is truly great and sums up our community as a whole.”

Cheryl and her husband Chris also recognized an opportunity to help her community. She established a raffle that would take place during the race that would benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. All participants were asked to donate a raffle prize valued at 10$ or more. During the race, all participants and spectators can purchase tickets to have the opportunity to win a raffle item. All proceeds are donated directly to The Wounded Warrior Project. Each year thousands of dollars are donated to a good cause.

“This event emphasizes an outstanding community in our Rancho Cucamonga area, we are very honored to be associated with this event and grateful every year for your generosity towards our wounded warriors” stated Brian Brunger, an advocate, and spokesman for The Wounded Warrior Project. The community is very proud of their donations as they strive for American ingenuity in there pumpkins as well as American pride in their neighborhood.

With the Pumpkin 500 coming to its conclusion, chatter of the 2017 Pumpkin 500 had already begun. Kids played in the street with their pumpkins while parents enjoyed the company of their neighbors. The Pumpkin 500 has become part of the Halloween spirit for these residents and they cherish it with great pride. For the next year winners will brag of their winnings while losers must take the punishment, but truly this event holds greater significance than winners and losers.

This event holds the image of pumpkins and racing, but is truly characterized by the spirit of a small Rancho Cucamonga community. A community where neighbors are like family and young children become friends for life.

“We have truly great people out here and I’m proud to be part of this neighborhood,” said Mr. Felan.

Children watch as their pumpkins come racing towards them