EXETER — Talk about a one-of-a-kind fundraiser.
Bertie's Inn held its 29th annual Belt Sander Race earlier this month. To date, the race has raised more than $370,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“This is the only event of its kind in the world, as far as we know,” said Peter Thomas, owner of Bertie's Inn.
The races usually attract a crowd of between 600 to 700 people, and each year the event raises between $7,000 to $10,000.
When they first bought the business, owners Peter and Anne Thomas knew they wanted to donate money to a charity.
“The MS Society contacted us to participate in the U.G.L.Y. Bartender contest and we have continued to raise money for them ever since,” said Anne. “We were trying to come up with unique ideas to raise money for MS and were brainstorming with some customers. The idea (a belt sander race) was thrown out as kind of a joke and it just took off.”
The race has grown over the years.
“Little by little things were added to make it a better event. Early on we added small seats to the sanders to make them easier to ride. We now have a large tent to cover the track and seating area. We have bleachers for spectators and a PA system for announcements. We also have someone sing the National Anthem before racing begins,” said Anne. “This event is like planning your wedding every year. We couldn't do it without all the help from our volunteers and those who contribute their time, goods and services to making it a success.”
This year, 32 teams competed. There is a $50 entrance fee for each team, but they are encouraged to raise as much as they can. Admission is a $2 donation at the door. All money raised goes to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. All riders must be 21 years old and sign a waiver form.
Bertie’s Inn provides the 4 x 24 hand held belt sanders with 100 grit sandpaper used in the race. The racers ride their belt sanders on a 40-foot, plywood track.
Michael Merkel, 24, of Lenhartsville raced for the first time and explained his race strategy, “Sit down, hold the button, and hang on.”
After racing for the first time, Savannah Delong of Shillington said, “You have to balance because it (the belt sander) wants to kick you out from behind.”
The rules are pretty straight forward:
● The racer must stay in their own lane of black and white checks
● The rider is disqualified if they cross the center, red, track line
● The winner is determined by the first sander to cross the finish line - there is a volunteer finish-line judge
● The race is double elimination, you are finished competing when you lose two races
“If you fall off, get back on and keep going,” said Anne.
Other racers also offered suggestions.
Kari Wink of Mt. Penn, from ‘A wink or two and a smile’ team raced for the first time. Her husband, Jason Wink, who has raced in two previous year’s races, suggested she should just “hang on and go!”
From team ‘Redneck Riders’ Jennifer Harting of Adamstown raced for the first time and warned, “Those things (belt sanders) are powerful.”
First time competitor, Morgan Vandenberg, who has MS, traveled two hours from Bergen County, N.J. to race. Vandenberg did her first practice run with her shoes on, but learned that it worked better for her to take off her shoes and just wear socks.
Claudine and Mark Bennett traveled from Dayton, Ohio.
“Who wouldn’t want to see this? We built our vacation around this event,” said Claudine.
Nicole Martin, Pottsville, participated for the second year. From experience, she’s learned “lean forward and try not to fall off.”
According to the crowd and Anne, the “best race of the day” was between Rachel Cinelli of Lower Alsace and the day’s most determined racer, first time rider, Sean Stern of Exeter.