At the races, smooth time had by all

Cheerleaders toss free T-shirts into the crowd.

Fans wave blue and red signs to cheer on their favorite racers.

The announcer works the crowd as the dueling racers rev their engines.

“Two go in the cage,” he says. “One comes out.”

All is quiet as an amber light blinks, followed by another, and another.

A light flashes green, and in a whir, the racers zoom down the drag strip.

In just a few seconds the racers hit the end of the track. The audience gasps, then applauds.

This could be the scene at any street race or drag race.

But these aren’t your average racing vehicles.

Strictly speaking, they’re not vehicles at all.

These are belt sanders, those hand-held electrical tools normally used to sand wood.

Some of the fastest belt sanders in the nation, at that.

They raced Thursday at the Belt Sander Racing Association National Championship, held at the Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers Fair at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The fair, which runs through today, features exhibits in the home and commercial furnishings industry.

The association, presented by Accuride, holds its national championship during odd years. The first national championship was at the same fair in 2007.

The big event had two double-elimination tournaments, one for the stock class and one for modified belt sanders. Stock sanders must be standard products from conventional power tool manufacturers, with no technical modifications or substitutions.

Ellie Bird of Bellingham, Wash., guided her sander, Just Fast, to the stock championship despite a first-round loss.

“The first one made me mad, so I wanted to win the rest after that,” Bird said. “I got really competitive, so I think that’s what drove me.”

In the modified class, owners may soup up their motors, drive systems and electric systems. The belt itself must remain conventional, but modified racer speeds can surpass 17 mph. Top speeds on Thursday approached 20 mph.

Two modified sanders operated by John Bunton competed for the track record time Thursday. The Silver Bullet edged the Intimidator by 0.0044 seconds, zipping down the 75-foot track in just 2.5935 seconds.

Whether sanders are fast or slow, stock or modified, the racing association strongly encourages creative decorations. And some competitors were decked out for the national championship.

A Tweety Bird doll, for example, rode Tweety Lin to second place in stock.

Ellie Bird’s stock champion, Just Fast, featured a cardboard cut-out of a muscular man, which rose like a dorsal fin from the top of the sander.

“This is the owner of the company,” Bird explained, referring to FastCap owner and founder Paul Akers. “He’s here in spirit. On the sander.”

Decoration was important enough for the association to award an additional trophy to the best-dressed racer. An international Harley girl rode this year’s most attractive sander. Champion sander dresser Peter Kilgore of North Las Vegas decorated the sander with a motorcycle, a leather-capped biker girl, and two flags — one Canadian, one American.

The sander, called Off to the Races, was so cute that Kilgore had to pause before sending her off on her first race.

Kilgore, who works for McKillican, a hardware and hardwood floor company, explained his sander’s design.

“Harley Davidson is certainly iconic for American motorcycles,” Kilgore said. “The BSRA races have become, frankly, iconic for the woodworking show and also for belt sander races. And I just kind of put the two together.”

He added the two flags because McKillican operates in the United States and in Canada.

While Kilgore’s stock sander won for its looks, a modified sander took the Judge’s Choice trophy for its engineering. Judge Calvin Luce selected Valkyrie, designed by Scott Rhodes, of Rhodes and Rhodes Millwork in New Jersey, for the award.

“Out of all the sanders that were here, I think the most amount of engineering went into that,” said Luce, director of sales distribution for Accuride. “When you’re asking people to modify a belt sander, I think that’s important to recognize.”

Valkyrie may have had the most intricate engineering, but Slim Bethune of Rockport, Texas, joined Bird in the winner’s circle by guiding the Sandy Blaster’d to the modified class championship.

Contact reporter Dan Everson at 702-383-0245.

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