AUGUSTA -- Even at the slow speed, the 1968 Pontiac Firebird purred. When Dana Geneseo backed his car into the center of the Augusta Armory auditorium, everyone turned their head to watch.
Red with a black racing stripe, Geneseo's Firebird weighs 3,800 pounds, has a sound system in the trunk that could fill a small arena with music, and is the very definition of a muscle car.
"It's the perfect car for this," Geneseo said.
This is car deadlift event at the fifth annual Central Maine Strongman Competition, held Saturday at the Augusta Armory. The car deadlift was the second of six events in the fifth annual Central Maine Strongman Competition. The Firebird was placed on a platform, which has an adjustable bar and handles. The bar can be lengthened or shortened, depending on the weight class competing. The shorter the bar, the more of the car's weight the competitor must lift.
For the lighter weight divisions, the car deadlift was close to 375 pounds, Geneseo said. For the heavyweights, the class in which Geneseo competes, the weight was around 700 pounds.
Each competitor had 60 seconds in which to complete as many lifts as possible. A judge stood nearby, letting the lifter know when the weight has been completed to lockout, counting off reps. The most times Geneseo has seen his car lifted is 17. His personal record is 14. Geneseo never worries about something happening to the Firebird he restored and loves to drive.
"It just goes up and down," he said. "It just goes up and down."
Some try the lift, and the car didn't budge. Others found a rhythm, lifting the Firebird over and over, ignoring the way the platform and car shook each time it was dropped back down. It's an event that tests the legs, back, and arms, but most of all mental toughness. Very early, the pain soaks into the muscles, particularly in the lower back. If you can ignore that, you can get through the longest minute of your life.
"You have to fight through the pain," said Francois Duchesne of Quebec City. Duchesne completed seven lifts in the under 175 pound division. "Some guys, they do two, three reps, they feel the pain, they stop. I go to the max. Not to the point I pass out, but close."
As he spoke, Duchesne watched Matt LeBlanc, of Putnam, Conn. LeBlanc is a 5-foot-6, 175 pound ball of muscle,
"He's going to get 10, I bet," Duchesne said.
Close. LeBlanc lifted the Firebird nine times.
"I never did it before," LeBlanc said. "My first thought was, 'Get the first one.' They told me if you get the first one, the rest will follow."
To get through the inevitable pain, LeBlanc focused on technique. Use the legs, and lift towards the car. The pain sets in 20 seconds in, LeBlanc said.
"At that point, you're already gassed," LeBlanc said. "If you're doing it wrong, you're going to get hurt."
Geneseo managed eight lifts, not his best, but enough to edge Matt Buonantuono in the heavyweight division. The high of the day belonged to Aaron Fondry, who won the 176-200 pound class with 15 lifts.
One of the surprises of the day was Augusta's Rob Drummond, who's trained with Geneseo for five and a half months. Competing in the novice division, Drummond lifted the car 13 times.
"I just wanted to put up a decent number. It's more mentally tough than physically," Drummond said.
While he was lifting, Drummond focused on his grip. He was one of the few who didn't use straps to reinforce his hold.
There were three more events after the car deadlift, kegs of water to haul and farmers handles to lug and Atlas stones to lift. Drummond focused on those, rather than his success lifting Geneseo's vintage car. His attitude was shared by just about every one of the 38 competitors.
"I just want to lift weights until it's over," he said.