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Another smooth move to the finish in Freeland

Winner Chris Ceci (left) watches as his machine outraces that of Mike Shorey (right) to win the annual belt-sander races in Freeland on Friday. It was Ceci’s third consecutive championship. - David Welton/The Record
Winner Chris Ceci (left) watches as his machine outraces that of Mike Shorey (right) to win the annual belt-sander races in Freeland on Friday. It was Ceci’s third consecutive championship.
— image credit: David Welton/The Record

FREELAND — The Michael Schumacher of sandpaper kept his legend alive Friday when he blew away the competition at the belt-sander races in Freeland.

Chris Ceci of Coupeville won for the third straight year.

“It just seems to be a little faster than all the others, is all,” Ceci said of his 12-year-old Porter Cable dynamo that dominated the annual event sponsored by Frontier Building Supply.

Ceci, who works for a local builder, won $300, a gold medal made from a spray-painted washer on a ribbon and a trip to Anacortes this Saturday to compete in the finals of the building supply chain’s annual event. He’ll go against winners from other stores in the region for the $500 grand prize.

“I want to get my name on that trophy,” he said, not mentioning the sander, which did the work.

About 100 people showed up for the free food, booths, raffle and jokes as 24 contestants raced their electric belt sanders two at a time in elimination heats along a 50-foot track.

The track has two parallel slots about five inches wide, with side walls high enough to prevent the machines flying into the crowd and disrupting the eating, gossiping and sun-worshipping. Each sander was attached to a long extension cord that powered it down the track, and each pair was released simultaneously by the starter.

The quick ones reached the finish in about five seconds, which puts their speed at about 35 miles per hour, although no one bothered to check.

The business end of a belt sandsander is four inches wide and about

24 inches long, with the power unit and hand grip on top. Race rules permit no modifications, although it’s OK to decorate. One came with a rubber chicken.

“Everybody brings their stock sandpaper,” said store manager Dion McCauley. “They usually buy it from us.”

“Some of them just grab their sanders out of the garage,” added Jeff Wegner, also of the Freeland store. “Others take it a bit more seriously.”

In the final round, Ceci’s Porter Cable nipped a smooth-running Bosch owned by Mike Shorey, a previous local winner himself.

Shorey pocketed the silver medal and $200, and Freeland contractor Larry McMaster took the bronze and $100.

Michelle O’Kelly, the only woman racer, finished just out of the money, losing to Shorey in the fourth round. “I’m having a great time,” O’Kelly, an Oak Harbor builder, said as she soaked up the crowd’s adulation. “It’s definitely a refreshing change from work.”

In the first-ever youth division, Jared Goss, 8, and Brenna Mosley, 10, borrowed a couple of machines and staged a heat. Jared’s sander edged Brenna’s, but maybe it’s because his had the rubber chicken.

“Fun,” said Brenna, as they each pocketed $50.

Homeowner Dick McGrath made the splashiest entrance, striding up to officials with his secret weapon covered by a tea towel.

At race time, his secret weapon turned out to be an old Sears Craftsman piloted by a little bear in a Canadian Mountie suit.

“This is the best I could come up with on short notice,” said McGrath, who added that he had just finished building a house in Useless Bay Colony, and showed off a couple of bandaged fingers.

McGrath’s sander lost in a rerun with a local builder’s when it swerved halfway down the track and stalled.

“That’s why you depend on professionals,” emcee Tom Davis told the crowd. “They start late, but they get things done.”

“I’ll be back next year, worse than ever,” McGrath said with a sigh.

Davis, who has been calling the event for several years, struck an Olympics theme by trotting in with a tiki torch and lighting a saucer of flammable liquid.

“This is one of the best ones,” he said of 2008’s event. “They put more into it and get the best support.”

Wegner, of the Freeland store, was philosophical on behalf of winner Ceci’s victims.

“It’s kind of like baseball,” he said. “There’s always next year.”

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