Long-time sponsor, first-time competitor: A new bed race contender eyes the prize
Samtec has sponsored the Kentucky Derby Festival Bed Race for years, but this year, they decided to roll on to the track as competitors.
For the uninitiated, one of Louisville’s favorite ways to celebrate the leadup to the most exciting two minutes in sports, is with several other races.
The great hot air balloon race. The steamboat race. And, arguably the most ridiculous, the bed race.
It’s pretty simple: Competitors are tasked with taking a mattress and turning it into a racing machine.
Samtec has been a long-time sponsor of the Kentucky Derby Festival Bed Race but has never participated in the event. Samtec also provides some financial support to Louisville Public Media.
“It's good for us, to participate in events like this to get our name out there,” said Pam Grieb, who oversees community relations at Samtec.
The company has 7,500 employees globally. For the bed race, Grieb said about 35 employees from the headquarters in New Albany came together.
After signing up and getting the specs for the mattress, John Riley, who is in technical marketing, started recruiting.
“Part of it was just connecting the right departments to do the right piece of it,” Riley said.
Samtec employees from across departments worked together to build the bed almost completely in-house, with things like the actual mattress and wheels being outsourced.
Robert Sarver, who works in the automation and design department, was one of the people behind the metal frame for the competition. He said designing the bed allowed engineers to get a bit more creative than they usually do.
“A lot of times we don’t get to do the artistic side of things where we make something look cool,” Sarver said. “It really isn’t part of our job a lot of the time because we’re doing industrial automation.”
Sarver said creating the racing bed gave him a chance to push against his utilitarian side and add parts for form rather than function. The design and engineering team added headlights and underlighting to the frame.
The Samtec team is leaning into this year's KDF theme “Through the Decades” with tiger-striped sheets and a black and orange frame. Greib said this not only pays homage to the 80s classic “Eye of the Tiger,” but also the company’s mascot.
Once the bed was assembled and ready for the track, it needed a team of pushers and a driver to take it to the course.
That’s where Joshua Payton, Jack Shine, Brian Vittitow, Brandon Rogers and Haley Waiz came into play.
Payton works in IT, but for the bed race he stepped into the role of team captain.
“I don't know if I volunteered as much more as volun-told, but it has been a really fun experience,” Payton said. “I mean, you just look at the stud power we have over here, and just an awesome driver.”
The team's members represent sales, IT, customer service and accounts.
“It's been really cool to see us all kind of come together and just have fun with it,” Payton said.
Outside of the Samtec Headquarters in the parking lot, the team has been practicing. They were able to get an idea of the track and set out cones to help them be ready to maneuver through turns and straightaways.
Even with the practice, Payton said he does have one concern.
“I think the biggest hiccup we have is we might just be too fast, we were cooking it a little bit there,” Payton said.
They are hoping the speed they’ve been able to gain on asphalt doesn’t cause a problem on the slick floor of Broadbent Arena.
If the skid marks in the parking lot are anything to go by, Broadbent Area and other bed race hopefuls should prepare themselves for some serious speed.
When asked if he had any trash talk ahead of time, Riley didn’t disappoint.
“We pull inspiration from cinema: If you ain't first, you're last,” Riley said. “If you're not gonna come to race, just stay in bed."
The Kentucky Derby Festival Great Bed Race is May 1 at Broadbent Area. Tailgating starts at 1 p.m. and beds are off to the races starting at 7 p.m.