Depending on which old-timers you ask, success in the chute hinges on launch technique, ice conditions, air temperature, wind speed and surface preparations. The race is sometimes decided by hundredths of a second, so competitors spend months slickening their sleds with paraffin, silicon, Crisco, bowling-alley wax, Teflon, polyurethane, Lemon Pledge and all sorts of homemade unguents with names like Moose Grease, Walrus Lard and Porcupine Pee.
"We pick up dead raccoons," offered Lincolnville physical therapist Doug Keith. "Then we skin 'em and boil the bodies down to a clear paste. That's all I'm allowed to divulge about our external lubricants."
Rules for the nationals were tightened after Rich Beauchesne, a Camden orthopedic surgeon who now captains Hogs-N-Heifers, skittered away from the 2002 field, winning trophies in almost every division. "We didn't win the family class," laments Beauchesne. "It wasn't that we were slow: We just forgot to enter it."
Having concluded that weight mattered, the hefty Beauchesne spent a small fortune importing ipe wood from Brazil. "It was the heaviest stuff I could find," he says. And possibly the densest—that particular kind of ironwood has a Class A fire rating, the same as steel and concrete. The 120-pound beast he created, affectionately called King Kong, roared down the chute so fast that the toboggan committee imposed a 50-pound limit for the following year.
The last time organizers had intervened was in the mid-1990s, when a Minnesota team entered a sled made from melted plastic milk jugs—370 of them. MJ Hummer, as the juggers were known, won the déclassé developmental class in 1996. The next year a boatbuilder from upstate arrived in Camden lugging a black fiberglass monstrosity with a Kevlar bottom. "That thing looked like a spaceship," Dickey recalls. "It tore the hell out of the track." The developmental class was scuttled. All sleds must be made of wood now.
Dickey is still a little peeved that Camdenites settled for calling their race the nationals. "I've always wanted to call it the Universal Toboggan Championships," he says. "Until the Martians come down and argue, we're it."
This is the 28th in SI's 50th anniversary series on the 50 states. Next week: Michigan
For more about sports in Maine and the other 49 states, go to si.com/50.