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Drivers from far and wide come race lawn mowers

August 20, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSON, Pa. - For all the noise they make, you'd think you were seeing a NASCAR race. If your eyes were closed.

The most horsepower these machines can generate was 28 - in the top racing class.

About a dozen men and one woman brought their lawn mowers - some stock just as they came off a Lowe's sales floor, some with souped-up motors. They bounced around a small, muddy, makeshift track rimmed with straw bales Thursday evening at the Franklin County Fair.

They were competing in a U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association-sanctioned event. None of the drivers was from the Tri-State area. Some drove more than five hours to compete.

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Lawn mower racing, while it lacks the glory of big-time auto racing, has its enthusiasts. One of its biggest attractions is that it's cheap.

It would be hard to spend $1,000 turning a lawn mower into a racing machine, drivers said.

Paul Sterner, 51, of York, Pa., pointed to his mower, which he said he doesn't have more than $750 in, "and that includes my gear like my helmet and racing clothes."

He bought the mower, a used 1972, 8-horsepower Dynamark, in 1981. "I mowed with it for about nine years then I gave it to my neighbor," Sterner said. "He used it for three or four years then he set it under his apple tree and it set there for three or four years."

He got into racing about three years ago at the urging of his friend, Tom Lavalette of Columbia, Pa., who is president of the Pennsylvania Lawn Mower Racing Association.

"I got the mower back from my neighbor and fixed it up myself," Sterner said. He lowered the frame, dropped the front end to give the machine a lower center of gravity, put on smaller tires, rebuilt the motor with racing gaskets and removed the governor, he said.

He also had to remove the mower blades, a requirement for all mowers before they are allowed on the track.

Drivers replace mufflers with straight pipes to wring out a little more power, but mostly to hear their engines roar.

They claim their sport is safe even if some mowers in bigger races can reach speeds of 60 mph or more.

Larry Lanning, 39, of Dallas, Pa., is not a good spokesman for lawn mower racing safety. Two years ago in an outlaw race - where, racers say, rules are relaxed and the competition much more aggressive - he lost control of his mower on a curve and was thrown off. He ended up with a broken back. He raced Thursday.

It's something that gets in your blood, racers said.

They get to be away from home a lot.

Rob Heft, 33, of Montrose, Pa., drove 4 1/2-hours to get to the fairgrounds Thursday. "I'm racing here tonight, in McConnellsburg (Pa.) tomorrow then I'm racing somewhere else Saturday."

The season runs from March through November, Lavalette said. "We race from Florida to as far north as Connecticut and west as far as Ohio," he said.

Stacey Crowl of Bel Air, Md., was the only woman driver Thursday. She came with her husband, Aaron Crowl, and their 10-year-old daughters. Aaron Crowl, president of the Mid Atlantic Lawn Mower Racing Association, announced Thursday's races.

Stacey Crowl said this is her first full year in the sport. She was encouraged by her husband to race, she said. She races in the AP class which is limited to eight horsepower.

Lavalette said Thursday the competition included five classes. Drivers raced in 10-lap heats to qualify for the 20-lap feature races.

They compete for trophies.

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