Durham brothers are 'Punkin Chunkin'
Posted November 24, 2011
Apex, N.C. — For most people, pumpkins are used for carving or pie filling. But Marc and Tony Banka, of Durham, look at pumpkins a little differently.
The brothers are professional pumpkin throwers. They compete annually in the Punkin Chunkin competition held at Royal Farms in Bridgeville, Delaware.
"In Delaware, we have sort of a reputation," Marc Banka said while loading their device, Pumpkin Slayer, for a practice run on a friend's farm in Apex.
Pumpkin Slayer set a world record in 2009 in the human-powered division, which means a person has to create the energy that the machine uses to propel the pumpkin, by throwing a pumpkin more than 1,900 feet.
"It comes out like a bullet," Marc Banka said.
The decision to build a device that shoots pumpkins started with Marc Banka. After hearing about a local contest in Youngsville in 1998, he contacted his brother about building an entry. The idea just grew and so did the relationship between them.
The Bankas, who have backgrounds in engineering and mechanics, say they have deliberately not kept track of how many hours or how much money they have spent working on Slayer over the past decade. They are constantly making tweaks and improving on Slayer's design.
Tony Banka said the competition at Punkin Chunkin is always getting better, so they work hard to step up Slayer's mechanics in hopes of topping their 2009 record. They try to test revisions several times a year at the farm in Apex. If they can't find pumpkins, they use bowling balls, Marc Banka said.
Although this year's Pumpkin Chunkin event was held on Nov. 2-4, the Discovery Channel and SCIENCE will simulcast a competition special on Thanksgiving at 8 p.m.
The annual event, which benefits charitable organizations including St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, has categories for human-powered chunkin like that done by the Bankas and for machines using motors, air power and spinning propulsion. The concept is simple: launch a pumpkin averaging 8 to 10 pounds as far as possible.
When Slayer isn't competing or making practice runs in Apex, Marc Banka keeps it in his backyard.