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Rolling thrones: Outhouse race brings humor, drama as Bristol celebrates 4th

BRISTOL — For Andrew Lafleur, Justin Stone and Blair Stone, the giant American flag draped over Bristol’s Main Street between two fully extended fire ladders on July 4 acted like the Arc de Triomphe does in Paris for the Tour de France winner. 
The flag — donated and lofted for Bristol’s Independence Day celebration by the Addison County Firefighters Association — served as the backdrop for their victory in a famous athletic event, the 37th annual Great Bristol Outhouse Race.
Justin Stone, who graduated from Middlebury Union High School last month and was a member of the two-time champion Tiger football team, welcomed Saturday morning’s outhouse success on behalf of Middlebury firm Goodpoint Recycling. But for him it didn’t quite stack up to those two seasons on the gridiron.
“A win’s a win. I’ll take it either way, any way I can get it. But, I don’t know, two state football championships is pretty cool,” Stone said. “But this is pretty sweet, too.”
The outhouse race, which draws big crowds each year before Bristol’s Fourth of July parade, features two runners pushing a rickety outhouse frame on casters down West Street while a rider sits inside the decorated commode.
Lafleur and Stone pushed and pulled the team to victory, with Stone’s petite younger sister Blair on the throne. Justin said he didn’t know too much about the race when Goodpoint Vice President Peter Funk recruited him. 
“I heard about it, but I really never knew about it,” he said. “It’s cool. I like it.”
Blair Stone, 15, agreed.
“This is my first time being here, even to watch the parade and everything, and it’s just a lot of fun,” she said.
The outhouse race plays an important role in the Bristol July 4 celebration. The parade is one of the state’s largest and oldest, and the day also includes a morning road race that draws a big crowd, and a number of vendors on the central village green offering goods ranging from strawberry shortcake to clothing.
The Bristol Fourth of July Committee handles organization and fundraising. The town kicks in $6,000 for the day’s expenses, which in 2014 totaled about $23,000. Vendor fees, road race registrations, business sponsorships, a chicken barbecue, parking income, individual donations and Great Outhouse Race proceeds make up the rest.
Race announcer Shawn Oxford said the outhouse race kicks in about $900 to $1,300 a year. Entry fees make up some of that amount, but most comes from fans betting on the four heats and final. Organizers sell $1 colored tickets to backers of each team, and winning tickets are drawn from among those sold to supporters of the first-place teams. 
The committee provides outhouses to each entrant, complete with two-inch casters that rotate 360 degrees, meaning that keeping the unit rolling in a straight line is challenging — and critical. Competitors can replace casters with up to three-inch units. Outhouses must be decorated with three sides, a roof and a door. Riders must wear helmets, and contestants may not modify frames or pull them with ropes.
The rules do not tell competitors to dress up for the occasion, but such a measure seems unnecessary.
COMPETITION
Saturday’s event began at about 9:15 a.m., just after organizers moved up the finish line about 15 feet — they decided new rumble strips near the downtown light might tip over an outhouse.
The first heat pitted the Paradee Family, Bristol Financial Services and Mount Abe JV Football. The footballers — Kevin Pearsall and Nevin Jameson pushing William Wright — started cleanly and cruised home.
The same could not be said of Bristol Financial Services. The team’s outhouse veered right early, almost hitting an intrepid photographer and then one of the fire trucks holding up the flag. Then its cardboard roof and sides blew off.
Still, the team jogged to the finish line to applause.
“I think they liked us the most,” said one team member.
“We must have put bad wheels on it,” said another.
The team was later awarded Best Outhouse Design.
“Good thing the judges decided before the race,” Oxford announced.
THE OUTHOUSES GET rolling in what was the most dramatic and ultimately decisive race on Saturday in Bristol, Heat 3. Goodpoint Recycling, left, held off a late charge from Needles in Motion, right, featuring cousins and five-time champions Chris and Kevin Berry, to win the heat. Goodpoint later rolled to glory in the final.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
In the second heat, the team called Hatch 31, with Ben Fitzgerald and former Mount Abe football star and current coach Eric Hartman pushing Roberta Sinnock, avoided an early dust-up between the Mount Abe Varsity Football team and Village Creeme Stand and coasted to the win.
Then came high drama: Goodpoint vs. Needles in Motion, featuring cousins Chris and Kevin Berry, who won five straight races before taking 2014 off, pushing Lizzie Huizenga. The Paradee Cousins also ran, but didn’t contend. 
Goodpoint got off to a good start, and then pulled out a trick possibly learned from the Stones’ father, Todd, a racecar driver as well as car dealer. Seeing the Berry cousins gaining, Goodpoint moved to cut them off, slowing the Berrys’ momentum. The Berrys regrouped and were gaining, but lost by inches — that extra 15 feet lost at the finish line might have helped them.
Organizer and finish line attendant Steve Gebeault — he held the plunger while his partner held a toilet brush, with toilet paper stretched between — went to a TV camera covering the event to confirm the result.
“It was a real photo finish in the outhouse race,” Gebeault said.
Justin Stone said he believed without the tactical maneuver the Berry cousins probably would have prevailed.
“They were coming on strong,” Stone said. “We had to cut them off. Good thing we did, or they would have beaten us.”
Kevin Berry said the Goodpoint team was both smart and quick.
“It was a bit of a pickle there,” Kevin Berry said, adding, “They were fast.”
Chris Berry said he appreciated the tougher teams this year after breezing to most of their wins. In fact, he said, he was determined to return next summer and win because of the challenge.
“It was better competition,” Chris Berry said. “It definitely makes us want to come back again.”
The final heat saw a sentimental favorite win: The Three-Day Stampede team. The Stampede benefits the cause of finding a cure for cystic fibrosis, and one of the two pushers, former standout Mount Abe athlete Kayla Flint, is a CF patient. She and Jesse Otis pushed Sydney Perlee past Snap’s Restaurant — team with two current Eagle athletes pushing, Anna Hauman and Danielle Bachand — and a theatrical Outhouse Named Desire group.
In the final, Goodpoint took charge early and rolled down the middle, holding off Hatch 31 by about 15 feet.
Justin Stone said starting quickly and owning the centerline made the difference.
“You’ve got to get a good start and get out front, because the road is crowned, and sometimes it sucks you to one side or the other,” he said.
Blair Stone said at one point she was a little concerned about a pothole, but never really worried about tipping over. It sounded like racing might run in the family.
“I felt pretty secure in there. I was holding on for dear life, but it was pretty fun,” Blair Stone said. “I like going fast.”
She also gave her team some marching orders.
“We’re doing it next year,” she said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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