“Will the owner of the red pick-up move it from the scale approach area? You’re blocking the scale and we need to weigh a delivery truck,” squawked the PA announcer to the crowd of about 200 spectators at the Illinois Regional Spec Mix Bricklayer 500 competition. Arriving just after the event’s start, it took a few minutes for the owner to leave the cheering crowd.

On this cloudy, humid Friday, hundreds of friends, co-workers, and bosses urged on 14 participants who were vying for one spot in the National Competition that takes place in February at the World of Concrete. The theme was customer service. For the first time in this regional event’s history, the competition took place in a real brickyard.

Illinois Brick hosted the event at its Bridgeview, Ill., facility southwest of Chicago. Dave Pakula, Illinois Brick’s general manager, and his team created a truly regional event. Masons traveled from northern Indiana, central Illinois, and the Chicago area to compete. The crowd was slightly larger than past regionals and support for their favorite masons was high. Thanks to Boral Brick, the crowd feasted on hot dogs and hamburgers as they watched the contestants battle.

For Illinois Brick, hosting the event was a great way to connect with their customers. According to Debbie McGlynn, Illinois Brick’s marketing manager, hosting the regional event created excitement in an area where business has been tough for the last few years. Illinois Brick marketed the event not only to its customers, but to the Chicago masonry community. Non-competing customers timed their material pick-ups to watch the event. Two masons who arrived just before the event started even asked if they could try their hand in the extra stall.

Pakula was pleased with the turnout and was excited about the enthusiasm and buzz the event brought to the region. “Showing customer support is a key part of our business, and everyone appears to enjoy the Bricklayer 500,” he said.

This was the fourth of 16 regional events scheduled before the national championship at the 2013 World of Concrete. According to Nick Blohowiak, Spec Mix’s site manager, enthusiasm for the regionals has increased each year. “Even with the heavy showers we had today, contestants and their fans showed up early and pitched in readying the event area,” said  Blohowiak.

There have been some subtle, yet important, rule changes to the 2012-2013 SpecMix Bricklayer 500. The most significant rule change regards the final wall appearance. Following the hour-long frenzy of wall building, contestants now have a 10-minute rest period. Following their rest, the masons are given 10 minutes to for a final clean-up of both wall faces. Previously, only one face received the final spruce –up. “We wanted the rules to more closely simulate what happens in the real world. The owner wants both sides to be of high quality,” said Blohowiak.

Several of the Spec Mix Bricklayer 500 regional volunteer judges said the rule changes were well thought-out. “Each year, the Spec Mix team tries to improve the competition, and I believe encouraging quality along with productivity is important,” said Dave Wysoki, regional safety and training director for the District Council Center in Addison, Ill.

At this regional, the rule change regarding quality may have brought about the desired result. The team of Steve Cleveland (mason) and William Hill (tender), not only took home the first place award for total bricks laid, but they also won the Quality Award for a wall with no deductions. With the dual finish, the team took home $1,500 and an armful of tools and gifts.

Like the National Championship at the World of Concrete, regional events draw masons together who then have a chance to share insights and information. William Buccellato, a mason from Brickman Masonry who served as tender for Brian Podest, said he learned a lot by watching the other teams. This was Brickman masonry’s first entry in the regional.

“We definitely studied the techniques of the competitors who have earned a spot in Las Vegas,” said Buccellato. The Brickman team plans to improve on its fourth place finish to earn a chance to win the Ford pick-up in 2014.

The Illinois Regional Winners were:
First Place: Steve Cleveland (mason) and William Hill (tender), Midwest Masonry
Second Place: Brad Rioden (mason) and Bob White (tender), Adams Masonry
Third Place: Joseph Vanik (mason) and Bob Vanik (tender), Vanik Masonry
Fourth Place: Brian Podest (mason) and William Buccellato, Brickman Masonry
Quality Award: Steve Cleveland (mason) and William Hill (tender), Midwest Masonry

Click here to see a slideshow of photos from the event.

To see the schedule of remaining regional Spec Mix 500 competitions, click here http://www.masonryconstruction.com/industry-news.asp?sectionID=790&articleID=1910117

To see Masonry Construction’s pre-show coverage of the 2012 Spec Mix National event at World of Concrete, click here http://mydigimag.rrd.com/publication?i=97012.