On your mark, get set... SAND!

News photo by Emily Thiel Niya Grenevich, of Exeter, and Ryan Hesson, of Exeter, race on belt sanders at Bertie's Inn to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

They revved up their engines and were off in a head to head race...on belt sanders. Yes, you read that right, belt sanders. This year marked the 23rd annual Belt Sander Race held at Bertie’s Inn, 160 Old Friedensburg Road, Exeter Township. The race raises money and awareness for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“You don’t always get to ride a belt sander,” said Ryan Hesson, of Exeter. This was Hesson’s first time participating in the race. “It’s fun,” he said.

“We wanted to give part of whatever we did to some charity,” owners of Bertie’s Inn, Peter and Anne Thomas, said when they first opened their restaurant in 1989.

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“The MS charity was the first to knock on the door,” Peter Thomas said. The first year in business, the Thomas’ started with a bar themed Ugly Bartender Contest to raise money. It was their second year in business when one of Bertie’s customers suggested a belt sander race.

“We thought it was an insane idea,” said Thomas, which didn’t stop the race from happening. After creating rules for the race, the belt sander race hit the ground “sanding,” and the customers wouldn’t let it stop. The race draws residents of all types from the area. “We have the chairman of the board to the guy on the motorcycle,” said Bertie’s owner.

“It’s about as red neck and hillbilly as you can get,” Thomas admits. The rules follow those of a traditional double elimination drag race, with winner and loser categories. “Each rider always has two opportunities to race,” explained Thomas.

Riders also must be 21 years old to participate.

“It’s a lot harder than what it looks like,” said participant Coleen Kulp, of Exeter. This was Kulp’s first year participating, as it’s her first year being 21.

If a rider falls off during the race, they can get back on and keep going on the 40 foot riding surface.

The race rounds up a huge volunteer effort for both fun and safety efforts.

There is a volunteer walking behind each of the racers, holding the cord of the sander and also a volunteer with a kill switch, in case of emergencies. There have been no injuries, aside from the typical minor bumps, scrapes and brush burns. Everyone must also sign a waiver before competing.

“ is difficult,” said Niya Grenevich, of Exeter, “If you don’t have your steering down, you’re going to fall off.”

The Thomas’ must purchase the belt sanders for the race, and now have 16 in their possession, gassed up and ready for the race.

The 23rd race was held Saturday, July 13. It rained Friday night, which Thomas thought would impair the event, but the efforts of the customers have gone a long way. “We have a guy who installs carpet ,” Thomas said. “We have total cooperation from more people than I can mention.”

This year, there were 37 teams racing. Each team, which can be an entire company, has one rider.

“It’s so cool to watch every one give each other high fives,” said the Bertie’s owner. “We just give away little plastic trophies... it blows me away every year.”

Team Rachel Zimmerman Computer Aid raised the most money this year, with $667.

“We’ve been on the low end and the high end ,” Thomas said, but a low fund raising year won’t stop the race.

“It’s a fun event for a good cause,” said Trish Beltz, of Bernville, who has been coming to the event the last nine years.

To date, the annual belt sander race has raised about $300,000 total for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“We’re very proud of the event, but for us as a family, it’s crazy,” said Thomas, “As long as we’re still physically and mentally able to do it, we will.”