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The Legend of the Bagman

by Dave Camire

"Before every big race you see some otherwise well-dressed person walking around in a Hefty bag."
-
Will Mason

It was 1980 and the running boom in the Merrimack Valley was in full swing. Running clubs were forming and races were popping up everywhere. I had an idea of starting my own running club. The Dracut Athletic Running Team or DART for short. Fortunately before DART could hit any bull's eyes I hooked up with a group of runners from Lowell. Shortly after we formed the Greater Lowell Road Runners club (GLRR).

From day one the GLRR started promoting the sport and putting on races. First was the Hynes Road Race, then the Real Memorial Day Road Race followed by the Run Your Turkey Off 15K. Each race seemed more successful then the previous. We excelled as race organizers and promoters. However we lacked in forecasting ability particularly when it came to buying t-shirts.

"The first races were conspiracies of t-shirt companies."
-
Will Mason

By the end of 1981 GLRR had a very large inventory of unused t-shirts. We had no idea what to do with them. While discussing the problem at one of our board of directors meetings I had a light bulb moment. Why not recycle the shirts by putting them in bags by size and passing them out in grab bag fashion at a road race? The Grab Bag Road Race was born!

So in 1982 I directed my first full fledge road race out of Cawley Stadium in Lowell. The race was a huge success. So much so that we decided to do it again in 1983, but this time at the Lowell Elks. By then the GLRR had become very adept at figuring the amount of t-shirts needed for each race. So as we closed in on the race day it became apparent that we would have to buy shirts for our Grab Bag race.

Of course with a shirt you need a nifty logo. So I enlisted the help of the graphics department at Shawsheen Tech. My instructions were simple, use the words "Grab Bag Road Race" and have a runner depicted in the logo. To my surprise what came back was a runner in full stride with a bag over his head. My first reaction was to reject the artwork, but I didn't want to insult the artist so I used it. I plastered it all over the race application and the front of the shirt. End of story . . . well, almost.

Race day finally arrived and over 700 runners showed up for the 12K run. It was a who's who of runners in the Merrimack Valley. The Kimball brothers, Paul Opowoski, Jim Stronach and Lillian Peltz were among the star studded field. It was also a warm summer day for a stroll through the Pawtucketville section of Lowell.

As I lined the runners up for the start the guys in the front all started laughing. Unbeknownst to me was a guy dressed very unusual for a race with a bag on his head heading toward the start. He was even wearing the number seven like the graphic supplied the students at Shawsheen Tech. He then dropped in front of the whole crowd and did twenty push-ups. The crowd erupted in laughter then applause. The Bagman had arrived.

Even though I was the race director, I had no idea who was under the bag. As the run progressed I kept getting reports of the antics of the bagman on the course. At the first water station he requested two cups then proceeded to dump both cups on the head of the guy who handed it to him. At three miles he kissed one of the women spectators. The antics continued the entire race.

As the Bagman approached the finish line I tried to remove the bag, but he was too quick for me. He then disappeared into the parking lot. I remember being impressed that he was able to run sub 6:30 pace over seven hilly miles on a warm day with a bag over his head!

Several months later it was evealed to me that the Bagman was none other then the late great Will Mason. I guess I should have figured that one out. The Grab Bag Road Race continued for several more years, but none ever matched the day the Bagman stole the show.