Ever wondered what makes a car go? Why some cars sound different? What safety gear is most effective when racing? Why is it important to use weather compliant tires and steering wheels? The Hot Wheels: Race to Win exhibit at the Discovery Cube Los Angeles is providing all these answers through interactive videos, displays, and “hands-on” stations giving the whole family opportunities to learn while unleashing their inner race car drivers. The iconic miniature vehicles, which have been igniting kids’ and collectors’ imaginations since 1968, are the centerpieces of this traveling show: some vintage models are enclosed in glass cases, while others serve as die-cast models to experiment with high-speed racing.
Race to Win aims to inspire the next generation of drivers with the science, technology, engineering, and math that goes into making cars faster, safer, and more sustainable, particularly as we head into the era of driverless cars. It all fits neatly into the Cube's overriding mission of impacting young minds in real-life ways with STEM, early learning, environmental stewardship, and healthy living.
The exhibit starts on the Discovery Cube’s ground floor, in the area for young children. Here, a few displays showcase some nostalgic original gift sets that grandparents and parents will appreciate from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s (because who didn't play with Hot Wheels cars as a kid?). Just a few feet away, little kids can choose different models to color at the arts and crafts table, or push Hot Wheels cars on a mini track. In other words, it's fun for everyone from the get-go.
The exhibit continues upstairs, where it is organized in four zones (red, yellow, green, and blue), each presenting visuals illustrating the science, technology, engineering, and math behind high-speed cars. Hot Wheelers of all ages can test their knowledge of safety, engines, power, and motorsport design on large computer screens by participating in quizzes and designing the perfect turbocharged race machine for any track condition. The most thrilling part, however, is putting the theory of velocity into practice through hands-on activities. Playing with Hot Wheels becomes a science lesson just like that.
Several stations within the four zones invite parents and children to experiment with the cars' speed and performance while playing: at the way-cool six-lane downhill track, participants are challenged to figure out how to reach the finish line first, while at the intriguing adjustable angles track little engineers pick the right car to use and then adjust the tracks for optimum velocity. There's also a zoomy booster power track and a speed-timing track to see how lightening reflexes and perfect timing are the elements to make a car go fast and avoid collision. We couldn’t get our two-year-old to leave these stations; he tested every track and any Hot Wheel machine he could get his little hands on (and, trust me, there were so many!).
Changing tires and refueling like pros!
The highlight for my family was The Pit Stop Challenge, where we experienced firsthand what happens behind the scenes during a high-speed race. Like mechanic pros, we raced against the clock and attempted to change tires and refuel a race car in record time. Our teamwork and coordination weren’t quite there yet, so it felt like it took us forever, but it was great fun. Plus, we got to pose for a photo with the big trophy.
We got a kick out of seeing authentic artifacts, real racing car parts, and memorabilia such as helmets, a race car driver’s suit, steering wheels, and tires, among other things. Who thought we could get an education in fast cars and their history? It was truly a crash course (no pun intended, I swear) on the world of high-speed racing: we learned complex physics concepts through engaging activities while our toddler enjoyed playing with so many shiny cars. It was a win-win situation for everyone!
Although my own son is still at the younger end of the age range for this exhibit, we saw kids of all ages having a grand old time, including school groups. Because really, who's ever too old to race Hot Wheels?
Hot Wheels: Race to Win is open every day from 10am to 5pm and runs until April 28, 2019. Museum admission costs $12.95 and includes entrance to the exhibit. Children under three enter for free. On-site parking is free. Use code HOTWHEELSMAR19LA when purchasing tickets in advance online to get a free child's ticket with a paid adult ticket, through March 17.
Top photo courtesy of Discovery Cube LA. All other photos by author