So what’s an avid motorcyclist to do when the bike is in winter storage? Head for the United Bikers of Maine Beltsander Races, of course. Luckily, you don’t have to be a biker or a handyman to participate — or just watch.
The 78-foot track is two feet short of the national standards so that it could fit in the City Side Restaurant’s banquet room at the North Brewer Shopping Center. Avid contestants wait as the racing lights flash red, yellow, then green — then throw their levers to feed the power and watch as the sanders scream down the track, extension cords trailing behind.
There are two divisions, stock and modified. Stock sanders run 50-foot races; they cannot be altered mechanically, although they may be decorated — as they were with such entertaining designs as Orange Crush, Ten-Point Buck, and the Barbie Car. Modified sanders can be altered in any way, so long as they’re still belt sanders; they run 75 feet and end in spectacular impacts with stop cushions.
UBM member Wayne Bragg has raced for about eight years and, while the charitable goal of the races is his first focus, he has a couple of other reasons.
“Just the fun of doing it and meeting with people,” said Bragg. “And having a chance to have a little creativity making your machine.”
Bragg runs a modified racer. “All I did was change the pulleys on it as it comes stock — that’s your first, easiest step,” said Bragg. “It kind of cuts down the power for sanding, but for racing it makes it faster. And then after that, it’s pretty much anything goes.”
That can mean installing new gears or even replacing stock motors with motors from other machines — from a circular saw to a weed whacker. “It doesn’t even have to be from a tool; you can put anything on there you can dream up or fit on there,” Bragg said.
Since its formation in 1975, UBM has been a social group, an advocate for motorcyclists’ rights, and an educational resource for biker safety. But perhaps it’s no more visible than when it’s raising money for charity, something it does with dozens of events statewide every year. Belt-sander racing is one of them, with six here in Penobscot County.
Proceeds from the races support many charities, such as the National Kidney Foundation, Adoptive & Foster Families of Maine, and the Bangor Veterans Center. “And then whatever approaches us,” said race organizer John Rogerson.
All of the race proceeds go to charitable causes; none stays with UBM, as with all its similar activities. The organization is widely known for its annual Toy Run, in which thousands of Maine bikers collect and deliver donated toys for needy children during the holiday season.
Each year, local businesses donate money, supplies, and door prizes for the races, but “this year it’s been very tough,” Rogerson said. “We’ve barely been able to scrape up some door prizes. The donations this year are scarce.”
Rogerson says public events like this are also a good way for people to see that “biker” doesn’t mean “bad element,” and that motorcyclists of all stripes come out in force in Maine to do good things.
“We get the bad rap,” Rogerson says of the usual public perception. “It’s like you ride a motorcycle, everybody thinks you’re the bad group.”
This year’s races are dedicated to the memory of Richard “R.J.” Picken, who was an avid participant in recent years. Picken, 14, and his future stepbrother, James MacPhearson III, 16, died in an automobile accident in November 2011.
The next race is this Saturday, Jan. 28, at 1 p.m. at the City Side Restaurant at the North Brewer Shopping Center. Additional races are Feb. 11 and 26 and March 10 and 25. The entry fee is $5; admission is free for spectators.
The races need sponsors and door prizes. Contact John Rogerson at 356-5665 or Wayne Bragg at 565-2070 for details.