Celebrating 20 Years
No other company does what SPEC MIX does with regards to putting money back into the profession.
“No other company does what SPEC MIX does with regards to putting money back into the profession.” The words of the first ever three-time SMBL 500 champion Fred Campbell reflects the deep investment in legacy. Its roots trace back to the familiar spark of innovation required of all tried-and-true professions that have stood the test of time – the need for change. The SPEC MIX BRICKLAYER 500 has been hosted annually since 2003 to showcase and recognize technical mastery from across the masonry industry. 2004 winner and regional series stalwart Bob Boll thought the concept seemed simple enough, it’s an opportunity to earn additional money and recognition, just by showcasing his skill. Naturally competitive, Boll turned his love for competition to the SMBL 500 after learning about it from his brother and fellow champion, Mike. For some regulars to the competition, it’s a family affair, but for one mason in particular, a simple communication from a friend set his life on a different course. “Somebody sent me a clip of it,” said multiple-time champion and 2015 TOP CRAFTSMAN, Garrett Hood. Hood recalls thinking, “I’d won every other competition I’ve been to and I was like ‘man, I can do this too,’” setting the stage for a career that otherwise might not have included being the youngest ever SMBL 500 champion.
An overlooked benefit of the SPEC MIX BRICKLAYER 500 is being able to compare your work to top-level masons from around the world. Jerry Goodman, the first and only mason to be named World Champion and TOP CRAFTSMAN in the same year (2014), said his goal was “to make sure it was the cleanest brick people had seen.” A tall task when you’re going up against two dozen regional series qualifiers, who all have the same goal. Having learned of the competition from his daughter and mason tender, Heidi Albea, Goodman went into the 2014 World Championship eager to learn more for himself despite already being a well-established veteran at the time. “You do good work, you’ll always have work,” was the adage taught to him by his own mentor, the late Don Davidson. Battling against the best masons in the world to compete in Las Vegas and doing something no mason has even done in the 20-year history of the SPEC MIX BRICKLAYER 500, is a good way to prove, “you do good work.”
2017 World Champion and North Carolina mason, Matt Cash, said, “Any challenge that came about I wanted to be part of it, because the more knowledge and experience I had, the better off I would be.” Cash admits to needing that high-level competition, stressing the consequences in failing to challenge oneself and the importance of showcasing improvement. “Anyone can go out there and put up 1000 bricks,” he added, but as all the champions spoken to for this article would agree, it would mean nothing if done without pride in quality first.
Building on the legacy of pride as such makes it easier to reel in hopefuls who may need a bit more help taking that first step. “I got into Bricklayer 500 thanks to a friend of mine named Bud Johnson,” said current TOP CRAFTSMAN Darian Douthit. “He was the one that talked me into doing it.” he recalled from the start of a career that would go on to include four TOP CRAFTSMAN awards with three of them won back-to-back starting in 2019.
“There’s no way I can lay that much because I’ve never tried anything like that” admitted Douthit when Bud, a masonry instructor, insisted he give it a try. Now he’s the one convincing other masons to take the plunge, the same way Bud encouraged him. “They get so fired up,” Douthit said, referring to newcomers learning of the competition for the first time. “I think all of us in the industry really need to push as hard as we can to promote it.”
True as it is, preaching the event’s value would be a tall order for David Chavez, the soft-spoken, mild-mannered 2021 champion known in bricklayer circles as a competition heavyweight for years to come. The reigning champ admits that, while no doubt his family is his biggest reason for competing, a heavy sense of pride that “feels good… being up there with the best in the world,” doesn’t hurt either. As his team member and boss, Arturo Garcilazo adds, “his name is on that World Champions traveling trophy, it’s always going to be there alongside other legendary names like Jerry Goodman, Garrett Hood, Fred Campbell and Matt Cash.” With more appearances at each championship, Arturo mentioned the effect the competition has had on Chavez that otherwise might not have been available to him. “Those are guys that, looking through the years, he was able to admire and imitate them to a certain point.”
After speaking to some of the most important names in the SPEC MIX BRICKLAYER 500’s championship lineage, it was almost immediately apparent that true success in the tournament can only come from a place where standard of excellence is the start and focus of every project. As diverse as the champions themselves, so too were the legacies that success brought from winning the cup, such as standing on bigger stages. Matt Cash would go on to be featured as a special guest and masonry expert in front of 4 million viewers on CBS’s primetime show “TOUGH AS NAILS,” whereas Fred Campbell is seen as an east Tennessee celebrity widely admired by the kids in his community.
Inspiration comes in many forms. There are those that want to be viewed among the biggest names to lay brick, such as returning champ David Chavez, who’ll return to Las Vegas in January to defend his title. Other champions, who every time they run the competition, are focused on setting their highest best of workmanship standards, like Bob Boll and Darian Douthit. Then there are natural talents. such as Garrett Hood, looking to make a winning statement in their first attempt, which he did in 2008 with a first-place victory. Also in this category are signature bricklayers Jerry Goodman and Fred Campbell by leveraging their years of experience in the field to show they have what it takes to be a champion. And for those with a strong competitive spirit, it’s simply the lure of participating in a good old-fashioned style sporting event, like brothers Scott and Brian Tuttle who have competed in the SMBL 500 for a record-setting 19 times. Scott Tuttle, 2016 World Champion, reflected on how he would constantly race his brother on the job site which made the SMBL 500 a great way to satisfy his need to complete, saying, “for me, bricklaying was a more competitive trade than anything else.”
Now, after 20 exciting years of establishing what is indisputably the world’s greatest display of masonry craftsmanship, the attention turns toward the future. To carry on the pride, passion and drive created by the SPEC MIX BRICKLAYER 500, the search is on for the generation of bricklayers willing to rise-up and claim their spot masonry’s biggest stage. And to ensure the quest to be named “World’s Best Bricklayer” continues for years to come, SPEC MIX has partnered with event sponsors, masonry instructors and associations, as well as mason contractors to connect with high school and vocational students on the opportunities in masonry. In 2019 the JR. SPEC MIX BRICKLAYER 500 competition originated for one main reason, give prospective masons a chance to have some fun and test their skills. Even though it’s an abbreviated version of the SMBL500, the competition is wildly popular with teenagers. SPEC MIX Vice President, Brian Carney, puts it best, “It’s about building a new workforce through access. Every time we put a trowel in a kid’s hand, along with some brick, mortar, and a little guidance, we are closer than ever to adding a budding craftsman to our industry.”
The rich legacy of masons and the craft itself started taking shape centuries ago and today it continues to gain value. Whether it’s the craftsmen that built The Coliseum in Rome, or the 26-foot walls built every year at the World of Concrete, every unit is precisely placed because the passion and pride in a mason’s workmanship always prevails. It’s the cornerstone of the masonry industry, and the reason thousands of people will fill the Masonry Madness Arena on January 19th in Las Vegas to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the SPEC MIX BRICKLAYER 500 World Championship. It’s the only place where, for 60 intense minutes, 23 exceptionally gifted masons will pour every ounce of skill, speed and stamina they have to own the bragging rights of “World’s Best Bricklayer” …truly a LEGACY defining title!