Belt-sander racers step aside: Your tools just aren't fast enough — and even if they were, they're way too ordinary-looking to compete in the Power Tool Drag Races. This year's competition was held in May in San Mateo, Calif., and the tools were anything but ordinary. To be fair, a few did look like belt sanders, but only one came out of the factory that way, and it — for reasons unknown — competed in black nylon panties.
In any other setting such a strangely attired machine would stand out, but not here, where tools had been chopped, combined, and modified into outlandish contraptions (1). If the bad guys in the Mad Max movies had been tradesmen, this is what their tools would have looked like.
Races began in traditional fashion, with a woman holding a pair of flags. When the flags came down, the tools took off (2), most tethered to long electrical cords, but some powered by compressed air (3) or gas engines. Smaller machines ran between 2x4s down 75-foot-long wooden tracks (4); larger ones were driven drag-strip style across pavement.
The most popular motors appeared to be angle grinders and pairs of angle grinders (electric or pneumatic), followed by circular saws and routers. A few of the smaller tools had rubber drive wheels, but the majority ran on saw blades (5), which got a better grip on the wooden track.
Trophies were awarded for the usual things, like winning, as well as for such distinctions as most impressive engineering, most pathetic engineering, most dangerous machine, most spectacular crash, and best-dressed team. — David Frane
Twenty-plus years ago, a carpenter I was working with told a funny story during lunch break. He had been on the roof of a two-story building with a carpenter who was sanding with a brand-new belt-sander when a breaker blew. The carpenter who was sanding placed the tool on the roof and went down to reset the breaker. But he did one thing wrong — he forgot to unlock the trigger — so as soon as he flipped the breaker, the belt-sander flew off the roof and broke into pieces when it hit the driveway.
Belt-sander ski-jumping never caught on — but belt-sander racing and power-tool racing certainly did. A number of contests are held around the country, but the most extreme machines compete at the Power Tool Drag Races, held almost yearly in the San Francisco Bay Area. In recent years these races have been held at an auto wrecking yard in San Francisco; this year they were held at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif.
Many of the builders who compete would describe themselves as artists. If you look at the modifications they’ve made to the tools, you’d probably describe them as gearheads — and some, perhaps, as crazy. Regardless, the races themselves are a great event for anyone who’s interested in tools and likes to see them used for fun. Here are some more photos from my day at the races.