FERNDALE — Troy Ramroop is a pilot, but he has never had to build anything quite like what he and his team designed in September.
Ramroop, owner of The Grasshopper Underground in Ferndale, got his general manager and three other staff members to make a video and submit it to Red Bull Flugtag to try to become contestants in the annual human-powered vehicle challenge.
Of the 30 teams selected to compete in the Chicago event Sept. 21, the Detroit Grasshoppers were the only team to represent Michigan.
But before they could make their way to Chicago, Ramroop and his team had to design a vehicle that would glide off a 30-foot high ledge over water with only the team pushing and one captain on board.
“We were looking for something to do that was extreme and fun, and this came about and we entered and got selected,” Ramroop said. “I am a pilot, so I have a background working with vehicles that fly, and I tried to scale our vehicle to what I thought would work and use that as a reference point. We had never done anything like this before, so it was a challenge and we all did our part and got it together.”
After all the hard work, however, Ramroop and his crew — which included general manager Davina Hedrick, head bartender Aaron Dominak and barbacks Charles “Newnee” Rice and Ryan Rankin — didn’t get to compete.
Sitting at team 27 of the 30 teams selected, the competition was called off after the 25th team because of severe wind.
“A lot of Red Bull employees had bets that our vehicle would get the most air, so it was kind of crushing not to prove them right,” Hedrick said. “We were simply taken aback when we got there, though, as we saw all the other crafts and people had been working since May on theirs, while we put ours together in two days.
“But it made us feel good that we got ours all together and functioning in the time we had, even if we didn’t get to compete.”
Hedrick was the only woman on the team and was chosen to be the captain if the vehicle had been able to compete. Not only did Hedrick feel privileged to be selected, but she was looking forward to the moment the vehicle would have gone flying off the edge of the 30-foot-high platform.
“I was stoked about it, and once I got to the edge, I probably would have been like, ‘Oh (expletive), what am I doing,’ but I was excited,” Hedrick said. “I have cliff-jumped before and free-fallen without life jackets, so I have fun with that kind of stuff. Also, there was only one other female pilot, so I felt like I was representing women everywhere.”
When it comes to which designs will do better and which won’t, Ramroop said the time spent on the design doesn’t necessarily mean success. One of the teams in Chicago made a replica of the Wright Brothers’ plane, but the team’s vehicle didn’t go very far.
“One thing we learned about the other vehicles is no one built their crafts with the perception of having a tail wind,” Ramroop said. “There were guys who did an amazing job with building an exact replica of the Wright plane, and it went straight down. Our vehicle was under 100 pounds and light, so I think it may have flown.”
While not getting to compete was a letdown, Ramroop said just being in Chicago for the event was something no one on his team had experienced before.
“It was absolutely crazy with around 100,000 people screaming; it was real high-energy with all the other teams and people,” he said. “They showed clips from past Red Bull Flugtag events, and we all got to talk about the crafts, and it was just a really cool event. It was like any festival party — a good time.”
Hedrick said at first, the team wasn’t sure if they wanted to make a run at competing next year, but after taking time to think about it and seeing the crowd and how hyped the event was, they will apply again next year.
The Grasshopper opened in Ferndale about four years ago with the intention of being a sports bar, but it has transformed more into an electronic dance club. The chance for the small staff to compete as a team outside of work was worth the trip and the 11 hours the team spent waiting at the event, Hedrick said.
“We call each other our Grasshopper family, and if we have a night off together, we hang out,” she said. “A lot of us don’t have immediate family in the area, so it was quite an experience to make this trip together and have these moments with people who will be part of my life from here on out.”