This year, the vehicle will have two-wheel drive as opposed to the one-wheel drive it had last year.

Now when they face the mud obstacle, they will be able to shift the two 8-foot pontoons up to create more clearance between them and the ground.

"Testing. Testing is the most important part," said Koerner, a 10-year Catonsville resident.

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Last year, it took the Smiths and Koerner about 40 minutes to assemble and disassemble the buggy.

Because constructing the buggy required so much labor, Phillip Smith and Koerner entered as many events as they could to put it on display. They participated in the Catonsville Fourth of July Parade, where they won the Judge's Choice award, Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby in Philadelphia and the Mayor's Annual Christmas Parade.

"The beating this takes just in the Baltimore Race, everything loosens and comes apart. It's not easy," Koerner said. "We thought the more use we could get out of the sculpture, the better."

Koerner recalled how a crew of friends followed the buggy picking up washers and other parts that fell off at last year's race.

She said the crew will be back again this year wearing Amish costumes.

"I wouldn't miss that," said the elder Smith, a member of the crew, though it was unclear if he'd dress up in Amish garb. "I'm thinking about riding my bike along with it."

Despite all the work, compromises had to be made. The key is knowing which concessions to make and being thorough in the assembly process.

"If you forget one lug nut, a bolt could slip off and you could flip over," said the younger Smith, a 1991 graduate of Lansdowne High School, about the water portion of the race.

Not only does the race test engineering skills, but also physical conditioning. The race lasts about eight hours.

Though the younger Smith and Koerner had the fastest sculpture last year, the two formed one of the smallest driving teams, going against some vehicles piloted by teams as large as eight or nine people.

Their two bicycles that power the sculpture, which moves an estimated 2-3 mph, each have 12 gears. Each driver can pick the gear that they need and the drivers take turns steering.

Though it has a bottle opener on the side and its half a dozen stickers include one of National Bohemian Beer's Mr. Boh that Philip Smith altered to look Amish, the buggy shouldn't be viewed as irreverent.

The inspiration for the vehicle came from the positive encounters Smith had with the Amish community, he said.

Smith said his favorite part of the structure is a wagon brake added to the vehicle two days before last year's race.

The double mechanical disk brake system isn't strong enough to stop a vehicle that weighs 750 pounds when the two pilots are in it, so they added a wagon brake at his father's suggestion.

Koerner's favorite part of the sculpture is the multiple horns installed on the structure. She said they will add two more horns to the buggy because they were a hit with the crowd.

"You see this beautiful sculpture and then you honk the horn and it gives everyone a laugh and a smile," Koerner said. "It just makes it a little bit special."

Should it complete all the obstacles, the team will retire the vehicle but not themselves from the event.

"If we get our Ace, we already have many plans," Koerner said.

The couple declined to disclose potential future designs, but said the key to a good design is first finding a good name.