Getting down and dirty at the Mud Runs

At the Mid-Coast Mud Runs, drivers test their skills plowing various mud-mobiles through a long trough of muck.

The engine revs and tires spin, flinging mud in every direction, but the truck isn’t going anywhere.

A long two seconds pass.

Mud splatters the side mirrors, windshield and every inch of the body of driver Craig Hamilton’s truck, the “Dirty Dawg.”

The Dirty Dawg remains obstinate. It barely made it a few dozen feet into the mud pit.

After five motionless seconds, the moderator waves a red flag and Hamilton’s run is over. A cable attached to the back of the truck drags his vehicle out of the gloop.

The Mid-Coast Mud Runs have begun.

The event, which takes place just off Bucksport Road in Ellsworth every couple of weekends, is a showing of the finest mud-mobiles in the area. Drivers plunge their chosen vehicles (one driver raced a souped-up Jeep with an American flag sprouting from its top) straight into a long pit of mud — on purpose.

The trophy goes to the first driver to make it to the end of the pit. If no one manages to inch through the mud all the way to the end, the driver who covers the longest distance in 60 seconds is crowned champion.

KidsHamilton won’t achieve champion status with his first run of the day, but he has about eight more hours to make up for it. The driver always enters his truck into several different “classes,” or categories, throughout the day. He splits the Dirty Dawg with his cousin, Steven Rowley, who also drives the truck at contests.

“We usually get four trophies between the two of us every time,” Hamilton said.

Before the runs start, all the drivers gather near the announcer’s stand to hear the rules and sign forms.

“Everybody who’s driving needs a dot on their left hand,” the announcer said. “Don’t have a left hand? You can put it on your right.”

The cousins then line up to draw numbers. It’s best to get a later number because then the mud is broken in, they said. Out of four competitors, Rowley draws number one and Hamilton number three. Rowley has a reputation of drawing an early spot.

For about four years, Hamilton and Rowley have been racing the Dirty Dawg. On race days, the whole family heads out to the mud pits to support the two drivers.

One Sunday, Hamilton’s dad, wife, aunt, niece, nephew and other family members cheer on Rowley, Hamilton and the Dirty Dawg from the sidelines. The whole group pulled up to the races by 8 a.m. to get a good spot.

“We’re here for every single one of them,” Hamilton said.

When it’s not a race week, the cousins spend time maintaining the truck and fine-tuning its features. When a run goes wrong, the truck can take a beating.

“I know somebody who rolled over last year,” Rowley said.

He pointed to Hamilton playfully.

The two had to put a whole new body on the truck after that incident.

“It’s an expensive hobby,” said Melissa Michaud, Rowley’s mother.

MUD RUN 10The driving duo spends about $200 to $400 just on entrance and registration fees every couple weeks, according to Rowley. Near-constant maintenance also racks up the bills.

“Every week we’re doing something,” Hamilton said. “We just keep trying to get better and better.”

Winners get part of the pot back, but for Hamilton and Rowley, the win is all about bragging rights and a trophy.

“I keep mine right on the stand so when people walk in the door, they can see them,” Rowley said.

Gone Muddin’
What: Mid-Coast Mud Runs
Where: Bucksport Road, Ellsworth
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sept. 7, Sept. 21 and Oct. 5.
How much: $10 per person 13 and older, $5 for ages 5 to 10, and free for children under 5.

Julia Bush was a 2014 summer intern who specialized in arts stories and features for the seasonal section Out & About. She hails from Texas by way of Missouri, and when she’s not reporting on the most recent gallery opening, she’s probably kayaking, playing the ukulele or avoiding doing the dishes.