The craziest race

Watch as souped-up power tools tear down a 60-foot track. (And through a flaming hoop!)
A rocket-powered belt sander with a skull on it.

The rocket-enhanced power-tool racer El Diablo del Muerte covered 60 feet in 3.75 seconds. John B. Carnett

It’s a rocket. Stuck through the back of a skull, sitting on an aging belt sander rigged to a pair of sawed-off skis. And it can haul butt down a track.

Scott David and his 10-year-old son, Cal, built El Diablo del Muerte (“The Devil of Death”) for last summer’s first annual Seattle Power Tool Drag Race and Derby. Inspired by earlier events in New England and the Bay Area, such races are now popping up around the world. The rules are simple: Build something that gets its drive from a handheld power tool (loosely defined). Each race pits two rigs against each other on wooden tracks, 60 feet long and 1 foot wide. The winner is the first to reach the end, but judges value originality as much as speed.

Besides El Diablo, the Seattle race featured a papier-mâché gremlin on a mini motorcycle and a rocket-powered toaster with AOL CDs for wheels. The gutsiest was an angle grinder/Rollerblade hybrid that launched off a ramp and nearly landed in the bed of a pickup truck down the block. El Diablo won several heats, but Cal is already looking ahead. Next year, he’s thinking his entry ought to shoot ping-pong balls.

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El Diablo del Muerte

  • Tool: belt sander
  • Time: 30 hours
  • Cost: $35
  • Propulsion: The Davids ignite the rocket, then switch on the sander, which turns two remote-control-car tires, coated in spray adhesive for better grip.
  • Accolades: Just Plain Wicked award

Old Killdoggie

  • Builder: Rusty Oliver
  • Tool: angle grinder
  • Time: 8 hours
  • Cost: $20
  • Propulsion: A modified grinder spins the front wheel. Two sets of inline-skate wheels press against the walls of the track, keeping Killdoggie headed straight.
  • Power: 15 amps
  • Accolades: Jesus Built My Hotrod award

True Grit Hog

  • Builders: Don Martin and Su Grill-Martin
  • Tool: belt sander
  • Time: 70 hours
  • Cost: $80
  • Propulsion: The sander sits flat against the track in the back, providing drive. Two inline-skate wheels up front keep it pointed toward the finish line.
  • Power: 10.5 amps
  • Accolades: Undefeated for the day

The Lone Skilsaw of the Apocalypse

  • Builders: Mike Begley and Josh Michaels
  • Tool: circular saw
  • Time: 25 hours
  • Cost: $75
  • Propulsion: A car fan belt connects a modified Skilsaw to two wheelchair wheels, creating the drive. Inline-skate wheels spin freely in the rear.
  • Power: 11 amps

This story has been updated. It was originally featured in the January 2007 issue of Popular Science magazine.