Gentlemen, Start Your Power Saws!

Power Tool Drag Races. What else do you need to know?

"Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!" The childhood echo of radio ads for monster-truck rallies, gun shows, and WWF matches drowns out every other thought as we wind our way through the industrial maze just east of Bayshore Boulevard: Flower, Loomis, Newcomb, Toland, and, finally, McKinnon Street, home of Ace Auto Dismantlers, the empyreal terminus of every kinetic-sculpture builder, mechanical-art welder, and fancifully deluded gearhead in the greater Bay Area. We've been waiting for three months and, at last, we are in earshot of the Power Tool Drag Races, an event sponsored by QBOX (presenters of this coming October's International Mechanical, Kinetic, and Electronic Arts Festival) and conjured by Jim Masonand the Shipyard, a machine-arts collective in Oakland. Lynyrd Skynyrdblares from unseen loudspeakers, overwhelming the sounds of the nearby highway. A swarm of motorcyclists speeds down McKinnon and screeches to a halt, lifting a cloud of greasy dust while brandishing leather-clad fists in victory. Trucks and artcars and barely moving automotive heaps stand double-parked on the wide street; some of the bigger panel trucks serve as bleacher seating for folks too lazy to stand or too cheap to pay, and they kick their feet like little kids as they peer over the junkyard fence and point at things with cans of beer. Someone shouts, "Escape from Detroit!" as a man in an eye patch makes his way to the ticket table. Other shouts and hollers and occasional pops and explosive poofs penetrate the roar of motors and Southern fried rock, offering a hint of the family mayhem just on the other side of the fence.

Inside the junkyard, plumes of fire erupt amid spectators pressed between piles of old tires, heaps of bent steel, and stacks of mangled cars. Some in the crowd (though surprisingly few) have safety goggles and ear protection; most wear bluejeans, tank tops, leathers, or miniskirts with giant platform boots. But for a couple of pregnant housewives and one grandmother, it's a hard-racing crowd.

In the "pit," more than 30 power-tool crews hunch over their creations, wiping sweat and grease from their brows while the two parallel 50-foot-long wooden tracks, bounded by 6-inch-tall wooden containing strips, are raised on blocks of wood. An urgent request for a level from the track crew breaks through a rousing Judas Priestanthem; meanwhile, a chariot pulled by a disembodied pair of meticulously constructed robotic legs plods past, carrying a man in a straw hat and goggles and a sexy clown in pinstriped overalls.

"Ever held a flamethrower?" asks a purveyor of Bonefire, an innocent-looking silver staff that actually serves as a personal flamethrower. The crowd backs away as I surmise which is the business end. With a chuckle, the man takes back his "fire torch" and sends a small blaze into the air.

"Better stick with the cotton candy," suggests a nearby spectator, but one look at a woman in torn fishnets adroitly twirling webs of pink confection around her paper cone convinces me that I'd have just about as much luck spinning sugar as throwing flame.


In the pit are workbenches where belt sanders, electric drills, routers, circular saws, weed whackers, and nail guns have been twisted, corrupted, and manipulated to fulfill the misshapen fantasies of their possessors.

Twenty-nine-year- old Ryon Marc Gesinklooms over his creation, running "safety" checks and tightening screws on the "Slave to Speed,"a demonic contraption formed by four Boschelectric drills, four circular saw blades, two car batteries, the partial spine of a large animal, a small cow skull, a skateboard deck, and the action figures of Jakeand Elwood Blues.

"I gave it a test run yesterday at the Shipyard," says Gesink, who looks like a feral roadie from a punk rock boy band. "It almost killed a dog. Goes like 500 miles an hour. Bones and the Blues Brothers -- what else do you need?"

Bob Schneeveis, creator of the "Walking Man" (the über-futuristic robot-leg-drawn chariot) and "Flaming Bunnies,"a bicycle cart powered by an old worm-drive power saw and adorned by an assortment of stuffed rabbits, gleefully explains his inventions.

"This one is called 'Flaming Bunnies' for a reason," says Schneeveis, lifting his straw hat to reveal the singed remnants of his white eyebrows and hair. "It was left over from the old shopping-cart racing days. Only took a few hours; the sprockets drop right in where the blade goes in the saw. It was easy."

The "Walking Man," which accurately simulates the human step, is another story.

"You can't worry about money or women or family when you're working on something like that," says Schneeveis, who designs specialized tools for neurobiological research at Stanford. "Luckily, I live alone, my children are grown, and my house is almost paid off. And, since my kids are showing no signs of producing grandchildren, this is it. Actually, it would take less time and money to make a real human, and babies teach themselves to walk. But they can't pull your houseboat across the desert, now can they?"

"Can I still enter the race?" asks Sunnyvale's Scott Anderson, whose wife cradles a belt sander he calls "Hell Kitty."

"He decided to enter today," she says, shaking her head in bemusement. "Took him three hours to put it together. We'll see." She sets "Hell Kitty" next to a circular saw adorned with a stuffed basset hound chasing a softball. Nearby is a Dremel-brand electric multitool attached to a radio-controlled car chassis; the entry is called "The Eliminator."


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