Forty-eight masons and tenders could be seen in the parking lot of the Las Vegas Convention Center racing to build a 26-foot-long brick wall within 60 minutes on Wednesday, as thousands of spectators cheered them on.
The competitors were hoping to snag the title of the best bricklayer at the Spec Mix Bricklayer 500 event, held annually during the World of Concrete trade show.
The competition gathers 24 teams from across the U.S. and Canada to see who is the fastest and most skilled bricklayer. The teams of two consisted of a bricklayer, who put the brick and mortar on the wall, and a tender, who made sure the brick and mortar were in the right positions for the bricklayer.
With a wall of 759 bricks, bricklayer Michael Schlund and Aaron Kowalski, the tender, of Kowalski Masonry in Wausau, Wisconsin, took home the top prize valued at more than $125,000, including a $5,000 check and a new Ford F-250 truck.
In a similar fashion to Stanley Cup winners, Kowalski savored the victory by chugging beer out of his trophy.
Schlund said it was his fourth time competing in the Bricklayer 500 — noting that he tied for fourth place last year but had never made it to the winner’s podium.
“Last year was probably the first year where I actually thought I had a chance of winning,” Schlund said. “Which gave me a little bit more drive this year to practice hard and make sure I did a good job.”
The event attracted thousands of spectators and the bricklaying teams had their own fans cheering and screaming words of encouragement.
In order to qualify, each team had to win a regional championship, held in North America, while one wild card team gets in for laying the most bricks across the qualifying rounds, according to Brian Carney, vice president of Spec Mix, the company that helped produce the Bricklayer 500. This year’s wild card was 21-year-old Grant Helms of Concord, North Carolina, making him the youngest-ever competitor in the Bricklayer 500.
“We can build several houses with the bricks we threw away preparing for this,” JT Payne, a contestant from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, told the crowd shortly after the bricklaying stopped.
Judges considered nine different categories when choosing a winning team such as wall height, how much space is between the bricks, if there are any chips and whether the wall is straight. Judges took about three hours to deliver the official results Wednesday afternoon.
Many teams used different strategies to quickly build their wall with some starting on the ends then filling in the middle section while others, like Schlund, did small stacks and built the wall as they went.
Schlund and Kowalski spent eight weeks preparing for the event.
Schlund said winning the event felt “unreal,” and he planned to celebrate his victory.
“Go back to the hotel to get cleaned up for the cocktail party,” he said with a smile.