Instead of fast cars, this 500 event pits bricklayer against bricklayer in a competition to build the fastest wall.
It’s all part of claiming the title of “World’s Best Bricklayer” at the 2021 Spec Mix Bricklayer 500 World Championship on Wednesday in Las Vegas. It’s a competition to determine who can lay the most brick with the least amount of deductions in one hour.
And Marty Marrs, owner of Marrs Masonry and Concrete in West Terre Haute, is returning to the championship for a second time after capturing the qualifying Illinois Regional series in Cicero, Illinois, in September.
“It would be pretty big if I win. I am competing against the top guys in the country,” Marrs said.
Marrs said masons have to work fast and precise to win the championship as each try to build a 26-foot-long brick wall.
“You get your area set up and you have a 40-brick-long wall on two sides. You got to spread your mortar and lay as many bricks as you can in one hour,” Marrs said. “You are judged on how straight and level the bricks are and there is a whole set of criteria you have to meet or you get deducted if not perfect.”
Speed and reducing mistakes is critical. Deductions can include creating a too-large mortar joint, costing 25 bricks from the total score.
“If you have a brick that is backward in the wall, they will deduct bricks,” Marrs said. “If both ends and the middle are not within a quarter of an inch of height, then you get deducted 25 bricks, and if it is within a quarter inch out of plum and level, you get deducted 25 bricks.”
The event, in its 19th year, will be live-streamed at www.specmix.com and viewable on the Spec Mix Facebook page. The competition starts at 1 p.m. EDT.
Three other masonry competitions will be held prior to the championships, as the live stream kicks off at 8:45 a.m. in Las Vegas. That’s 11:45 a.m. EDT.
The 2020 winner, Fred Campbell of Greenville, Tennessee, at age 47 won by laying 756 bricks and became the first three-time champion. At age 42, Marrs said he knows he can improve from his 2019 attempt, where he did not finish in the top five.
To prepare, Marrs said he has “been trying to eat healthy and drop a few pounds and get ready physically for the heat.”
Marrs will compete with fellow bricklayer Tony Savant, who will work as a mason tender, which is an on-site assistant. The mason tender is responsible for transporting materials, including brick and mortar, keeping the work site clean and attending to any other need of Marrs.
In September, the duo took home top regional honors with a brick count of 625. Marrs also took the title of Spec Mix Top Craftsman, for building the “most sellable” wall. That gave Marrs and Savant, along with their wives, Tiffany and Amara, a free plane trip and lodging in Las Vegas. The team will leave Vigo County on Monday. He also collected $1,400 in cash, a $200 gift card from Ford trucks, a tool bag, and earned the title “Illinois Best Bricklayer.”
“That’s because there are no sites in Indiana for the competition. There are only 20 nationwide and Chicago is the closest for me,” Marrs said. He also won that competition in 2019.
In the championship, the winner will receive $125,000, a new Ford F-250 truck and the bricklayer title. The prize for top craftsman is a Kubota RTV-X1140.
In Illinois, Marrs competed in 65-degree weather. That won’t be the case in the desert heat of Las Vegas.
“I feel like it is going to be really hard in Las Vegas in June when it is 95 degrees,” Marrs said. “I am not necessarily looking forward to that part of it.”
The weather will be a factor, he said.
“Typically in one hour, even in 65-degree weather, you are sweating. It is a workout. It will definitely change the competition and we all will be equally disadvantaged, so it will be interesting to see who can hold up in the heat and who can’t,” he said.
“Typically this competition is held in February when the temperatures in Las Vegas are usually closer to 70,” he said. However, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the competition until June.
This is where Savant will become important for Marrs. Savant will stock brick and mortar and will have to keep the mortar workable in the heat.
“Tony is very important. He is a bricklayer as well. Most guys in the competition take another bricklayer with them because they have the best feel for what they want. He knows what he would want if he were laying brick,” Marrs said.
Savant said he has known Marrs, his cousin, “my whole life and have been working with him for 10 years now. And we have a good relationship at and away from work. It helps we have worked together for a long time. We know our way around the job site and bricklaying.
“The mason tender in competition rushes around setting the brick up in a way it helps the layer be quick as he can. I also get all the mortar he needs, mixing it up to a consistency that makes it easier for spreading and laying,” he said.
“I’ve have been laying brick for Marty for the better part of my career with him. He was showing me the ropes pretty much from day one. Being a bricklayer helps a lot in the way of tending him. I know exactly what he needs when he needs it, when to stop stacking brick and get mortar or vise versa. When you see the job from both angles it helps,” Savant said.
Marrs said he was taught the masonry craft in the 1970s by his father, Dave Marrs.
“I started when I was old enough for my dad to take me to jobs, even before high school,” Marrs said. He graduated from West Vigo High School in 1997 and then attended Ivy Tech, graduating with a associate’s degree in drafting.
“I don’t use that for my full-time job, but it does come in handy to estimate and bid on jobs based on complicated blueprints,” said Marrs, who went full-time as a bricklayer in 1999, at the age of 20.
Marrs will use the same trowel that he uses for work daily. He said his experience will help him this time around.
“I think my experience will help with the nerves ... as I know what to expect. You just start laying brick and zone in and go until you start to feel like you are going to die,” he said with a chuckle. “Other than the heat, I’m looking forward to the competition,” Marrs said.