Gentlemen, Start Your Power Saws!

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

Johnny Pontiacand Johnny Hell, the official announcers for The Shipyard International Speedway (at Ace), appear on the sagging, glass-strewn rooftop of the junkyard office shanty to start "20 minutes of open-track fucking around." I position myself inside a greasy truck tire, next to a gaggle of kids munching on hot dogs and eyeing the vodka snow-cones served by a gravel-voiced desert satyr named Flash. Pontiac unfolds a thick bundle of papers and begins to read the disclaimer, sputtering over words like "insurance" and "liability" while zipping past "death," "dismemberment," "personal injury," and "trauma." As the race flags "hit the thighs" of Bill the Junkman's alter ego, Belinda, they're off.

The "Super Stock" entries, off-the-shelf power tools allowed only stock attachments and extra wheels for stability, gather at the two wooden tracks. In pairs, they are plugged into 50-foot extension cords and sent ripping down the course, the only stopping mechanism being a loss of power when the cords are yanked from their sockets. (Pontiac suggests that spectators who insist on putting their legs in front of the protective wall of tires are, in fact, protecting the tires from the fast-moving saw blades.)

After a test run, an empty beer bottle is duct-taped to the front of Team Diablo's belt sander, an attempt to correct a leftward veer that has continued despite the best efforts of a tiny stuffed-monkey jockey. Even with the aid of cutting-edge beer-bottle technology, Team Diablo is no match for a circular saw mounted to a skateboard deck at a 30-degree cant ("Less surface tension," marvels Pontiac), or for No. 1134, a huge vintage Skilsaw stabilized by a steel rod and wheel (a contraption that Pontiac predicts will win the "Machine Most Likely to Get Its Maker Laid" award, a stained glass-encrusted chain saw). "Teddy Bears' Tragic Picnic," a power saw that utilizes bears as bumpers, is a huge crowd favorite as it sends wood chips flying and bedtime buddies careening to certain death, but hardly anything matches the speed and graceful simplicity of 10-year-old Ariel Spear's unembellished belt sander, which soars off the end of the track, causing the Shipyard Happyland Pep Squad, a litter of ragged yet unabashed cheerleaders who line the junkyard crane, to erupt into pelvic thrusts and mop head-waving genuflections. The crowd roars and Spear, in her fashionable camouflage shorts, leopard-skin shirt, and tiny purple backpack, smiles knowingly.

"Usually, on weekends, I just ride my bicycle around my neighborhood in the Sunset," she states demurely, waiting for her scientist father to race his circular saw. "I like to be by myself, mostly, but the belt sander moves pretty fast."


Next come the "Open Track Racers," modified power tools with multiple motors. Pontiac jokingly requests that volunteers lay their bodies across the end of the track during the saw segment of the race; the volunteers (had there been any) would have to fear only every fourth racer. Most entries stall or get stuck in the track.

"Just a typical day at the races," says Pontiac, "a lot of waiting, a little racing."

"Slave to Speed" stops halfway down the track. While trying to free it, Gesink mistakenly breaks off the front chassis, goring himself on a circular saw blade. His day is over. Pontiac unceremoniously directs him to the "Healing Arts and Body Work Massage" tent run by Jerico Reece, but not in time for Gesink to win the Purple Wrench, an award for the first injury of the day, which is given to one of the creators of the "Bernz-O-Matic," a canister of propane ignited by a nail gun.


During "Modifieds," a competition of single-motor, human-"driven" machines that race across the junkyard tarmac, Team Alexanderconvinces a leather-clad pal with a crash helmet to lie across a 1930s Thorrotary pneumatic saw powered by 2,000 psi of nitrogen, so it might be entered in the one-rider division in addition to its "Open Track" status. Despite the word "Sucker" written on the metal "foot" plate, and even with a rider, nothing can beat the Thor, certainly not the weed-whacker-powered "Huffy" or Schneeveis' flame-belching bunny cart.


In "Top Fuel" -- the multimotor, multirider division -- Jon Sarriugarte, proprietor and creator of Form and Reform, drives a cart powered by the first tool his father gave him in 1979: a Sears Craftsmancircular saw.

"He lives in Idaho," says Sarriugarte, who brings a touch of class to the competition with an all-white racing outfit and sparkly red crash helmet. "I don't know if he'll understand what I've done to a perfectly good tool. Hopefully, I will win the prize and be able to buy a new one."

Sarriugarte does win, as does Team Alexander and a very surprised and pleased Scott Anderson from Sunnyvale. Pontiac's prediction notwithstanding, No. 1134 does not win the mosaic-encrusted chick-magnet chain saw; that prize goes to the half-time rodeo clown. No. 1134 wins for most dangerous machine; Schneeveis wins for best engineering; a three-wheeler built by Auger wins for most impressive crash. Each is awarded a Golden Flywheel, but by the end of all the beer and the goofy machismo, no one really cares. As the sun sets behind Highway 101, DJ Big Daddy puts on "Rock You Like a Hurricane" by the Scorpions, and all is as it should be in the junkyard.

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