Legend has it that once upon a time, somebody building something put his belt sander on the ground — while it was still on.

The sander flew across the floor, prompting the guy to think, “Gee, I wonder how fast that baby can go?”

Which sounds plausible, if you are familiar with how guys think.

“At least, that’s the Internet legend about how it started,” said Wayne Bragg, an avid belt-sander racer from Eastbrook, near Ellsworth. “I’ve been doing it about 10 years, but I know guys who’ve been doing it since the ’80s.”

Belt-sander racing seems to be a perfect fit for Maine, a state where wacky kinds of racing with modified engines are the norm. In the spring, the state sees organized “mud bog” races with souped-up trucks flying through the mud. In summer, there are lawn mower races, where riding mowers rev up to speeds much too fast to cut grass effectively. And in the fall, at the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta, giant pumpkins are made into watercraft and often outfitted with motors for racing.

But in March, it’s belt-sander racing time. There are belt-sander races held around the state all year long by various groups, but right now, the Penobscot County Chapter of the United Bikers of Maine is in the middle of its yearly fundraiser, a series of belt-sander races in Brewer (near Bangor).

The next racing day is Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. at City Side Restaurant in the North Brewer Shopping Center, 393 North Main St. The last racing day of the series will take place at 1 p.m. March 25, also at City Side.

The events are free for spectators, so if you’re curious about what exactly a belt-sander race looks like, it won’t cost you anything to find out.

But if you want to enter — if you think your belt sander is hot stuff — that will cost you $5.

Don’t think you can just buy any “stock” sander off the shelf at Walmart and be the fastest sander on the track. Bragg, one of the organizers of the Brewer races, says some of the “modified” machines might fly down the 75-foot-long wooden track at about 30 miles per hour. Stock machines, in contrast, might get up to 18 miles per hour.

But don’t worry — if you don’t know how to soup up a belt sander, you can race in the “stock” division with the other slower machines.

“With the modified ones, guys change the gearing, swap the pulleys around, put a different motor on it,” said Bragg, 58, a machinist for a boat-building company. “Seems like motors from skill saws have a lot of power and work well.”

If you’ve never been to a belt-sander race — and I’m betting most of you haven’t — here’s what you can expect in Brewer on Saturday: A raised, 75-foot-long, two-lane plywood track with wooden rails outfitted with a set of finish lights.

People bring their belt sanders decorated — sometimes with plastic wheels, flags or stuffed critters riding them. “People go to the dollar store and get all sorts of stuff to decorate ’em up,” said Bragg.

The racing usually takes a couple of hours. There might be a dozen to two dozen races, with two sanders racing at a time.

There will be door prizes for anyone attending, including things like baseball caps, beer glasses and anything else the bikers can get donated. There will also likely be a 50/50 raffle.

Any money raised at the races will be donated by the United Bikers of Maine chapter to groups in Penobscot County, including food pantries, animal shelters and veterans’ groups, Bragg said. “It’s just one of those things where everybody has fun, so it’s a good fundraiser for us.”

And finally there’s this: If you bought a belt sander thinking you were going to use it for all sorts of home improvements, then never got around to said improvements, racing will give you a fun way to use your sander so you can stop feeling guilty about buying it in the first place.

Mainers, start your sanders!

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @RayRouthier

 

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