"Three, two, one. Let's lay some bricks!"
The SpecMix Bricklayer 500, held each year in Las Vegas, is full of wall-to-wall action. IN the main event, masons are given an hour to lay as many bricks as possible. It's a competition full of trials and tribulations. And, you know what? It's probably better if I just let them hype it up.
In a highlights reel for the event, a VoiceOver says, "It's the fastest, most intense show in Las Vegas, and the fans who pack the area love the action! It's the Super Bowl of masonry!"
If that's indeed the case, then competitor Fred Campbell might be the Tom Brady of masonry — the elder statesman who has won this contest the most times.
"The only person out here who can beat me is me, you know?" Campbell says.
If the bricks aren't level, or the mortar thickness isn't exactly right, judges can deduct from the overall total. And there's big money on the line. Over $125,000 in cash and prizes, including a brand-new truck, are doled out to the contestants, who typically do this type of work without hundreds of screaming fans cheering them on.
"It's awesome. It's very cool. It's hard to put into words for me," says Michael Schlund, a foreman from Wisconsin, is the returning champion. "I mean, last year, I was happy I won it, but I was just taking it all in."
It's definitely a lot to take in, especially since this bricklaying extravaganza is just one small part of a much larger world. Last month, 60,000 people flocked to Las Vegas to attend the World of Concrete convention, which brought masons from 120 different countries to the exhibit space, which covers more than 700,000 square feet and hosts around 1,400 manufacturers.
"World of Concrete is the only event in the entire world dedicated solely to the concrete and masonry industry, right?" says Kevin Thornton, a senior vice president at Informa Markets, which puts on the convention now in its 50th year.
"It's a festival," Thornton explains. "This is the ComicCon for the concrete guys. It's like their grown-up toy store."
There are demonstrations to watch, drills of all sorts to play with and a concrete throne to sit on. People make concrete art and take rides on power trowels, all while cutting rebar and cutting deals. There are concrete courses and a high-tech component, with 3-D pricing, simulated truck driving, virtual plant tours and virtual tool training.
This year, there was even love in the air, as James and Patricia Estrada got married in front of the convention center.
"Concrete's been my life," said James Estrada during the ceremony. "I've been married to concrete most of my life. Now, we've got a threesome going on: me and concrete and Patricia."
But it's hard to imagine there's anyone who's more in love with concrete than Tyler Ley, a professor at Oklahoma State University who runs a YouTube channel to share his concrete enthusiasm.
"My name is Tyler Ley. I'm a concrete freak," he says in one YouTube video. "Thank you so much for watching this video. Make sure to like, subscribe and leave me a comment."
At the convention, Ley has a chance to meet his fans.
"These are my people, baby," says Ley. "They're here because they want to get better. They want to find the latest tools, the latest tricks, the latest materials, the latest knowledge."
This year, there was a focus on how to reduce concrete's heavy carbon footprint.
"It has a pretty big impact on carbon dioxide emissions in the world because it's so widely used," says Ley, who goes on to note that "concrete is the second-most used commodity on the planet."
The first is water, he continues, "because water's in concrete, baby."
Back over at Masonry Madness, Schlund held onto his title as the top bricklayer, coming in just 22 bricks ahead of Fred Campbell." Schlund says he'll be on the lookout for a "bigger garage" to put his second car from two consecutive wins. He probably knows how to build one.
Later today, just a couple of miles down the Las Vegas Strip, another high-stakes contest will take place. And, while much has been made of Allegiant Stadium's retractable field, a true concrete freak would want me to point out the under-appreciated material sitting underneath it all. The Super Bowl is played…on concrete.
Produced by David Rothman. Edited by Mike Levine.
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