BRIDGTON – The Mattress Race at Shawnee Peak is much faster than the other strange-but-true competitions that take place in Maine, it turns out.
The mattresses, holding up to four teammates, whiz down the course, reaching speeds of more than 30 mph, much faster than the human-powered beds in the Bridge-to-Beach Bed Race in Ogunquit and the humans in the North American Wife Carrying Championship at Sunday River.
“It is scary,” said Rick Tomasello, a first-time mattress racer with the March Mattress team of Plymouth, Mass.
Tomasello and his fellow teammates, Jay Bassette and Dave MacKenzie, were among the 16 teams in Saturday’s downhill mattress competition, an annual event since 2008. Entries are limited to conventional mattresses — no water beds or air mattresses allowed.
The winners who reach the highest speed on their sleeping pallets walk away with a king-size mattress worth $999 from America’s Mattress & Furniture Gallery.
The hardest part of the race, say contestants, is pulling their racing machines to the top of the course. That came as a shock to some contestants who assumed that the lift ticket they were required to buy to enter the race meant that they would be getting a ride to the starting point.
The race involves strategy and skill. Decisions have to be made over whether to go twin, queen or king size and what to wrap the mattress in to make it slippery.
The teams make the run one at a time. Their speeds are captured by a ski racing timer positioned about two-thirds of the way down the course.
The racers start out slowly but accelerate, especially after they hit the jump and go airborne. At that point, riders tend to lose their hold and wind up in a snowbank.
The hundreds of spectators who lined the course were wise to be on the lookout for rogue riderless mattresses. At least one team never made it more than a few yards past the start line.
“It’s never been boring,” said Dan Gyger, race coordinator.
Gyger said the hard-packed snow on the course presented near-perfect conditions.
The all-time record is 40 mph. The 2013 winning team, The Wedgewood Crew, was clocked at 37.07 mph. The slowest entrant, Neil Sleeps on the Floor, hit a stately 15.18 mph.
Twelve leaders and members of Girl Scout Troop 1921 from Portland took a break from a retreat to watch the races.
“We don’t know what to expect,” said Kristin McCabe of Portland.
Maine comedian Bob Marley made his maiden appearance at the race on a mattress complete with a tent, folding chair and a cooler.
“My friend AJ came up with the idea. I said, ‘Well count me in,’ ” said Marley.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: