Winner Ray Robinson is #12
Winner Ray Robinson is #12

Ray Robinson doesn't claim to be the world's best mason, but he is certainly the fastest, having laid 697 bricks in one hour at this year's Spec Mix Bricklayer 500. The bricklaying contest is held every January at the World of Concrete trade show in Las Vegas and features 20 teams of mason and tender competing for cash, tools, and a Ford F250 4x4 pickup truck.

Most of the teams hail from states where masonry is popular. Robinson is from Lake City, Fla. – an area without much brick but plenty of block. Three teams in this year's competition came from other countries – two from Canada and one from England. (Had that team won, who knows how they'd have gotten the truck back to London.)

The masons start from a level base (two rows of block capped by a layer of brick) 26 feet 8 inches long and are given 60 minutes to build the biggest double-wythe brick wall they can. Judges deduct from the total number of bricks for defects like voids in the mortar and walls too far out of plumb.

Although the completed walls are rough, they're not so bad when you consider that the competitors are laying as much brick in an hour as most masons can lay in a day. And they're doing it with music blaring over loudspeakers and hundreds of screaming fans looking on.

By the end of the hour, the masons have to be feeling it – no doubt they're thinking the same thing that millions of tradespeople think at the end of a hard day: "Five more minutes and I'm done." When Robinson's five minutes were up, he got to load his new tools into a brand-new truck and drive off with a $5,000 check.

See additional images of this contest on editor David Frane's blog.