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Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Racers are mowing down the competition

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Andy Mack of Benton goes fo a fast run on his suped-up lawn mower.
BENTON - Andy Mack lifted the hood of his lawn mower and checked the oil. He scanned over the engine. Everything looked OK, and he closed the hood.

The Benton resident wasn't getting ready to mow his lawn -- he was preparing the machine -- a suped up red factory-made lawn mower -- for a future race.

Over the past few years, lawn mower racing has increased in popularity in Southeast Missouri, where the nearest lawn mower racing track and club, Semo Racers, is located in Allenville. Located about a mile outside Delta, the track and hobby attract drivers and fans from all over the region.

"It's something different," Mack, 27, said about the hobby. "It's fun. A lot of the guys we race with are real good guys. They're nice and easy to talk to."

Mack, whose brother races stock cars, is no stranger to the racing business. So last year, after watching a lawn mower race at Commerce, Mack's interest in the hobby heightened.

"We thought it'd be neat to race them," Mack recalled.

All a person needs to get started is a factory-made lawn mower, Mack said. "We've been racing for a long time, and we knew what it took to race them," Mack said. "We looked at everybody else's lawn mowers, at what they were doing and what technology they were using."

To transform a standard lawn mower to a racing lawn mover, the deck and blades are removed from the mower, and bumpers and guards are added. The mower is also equipped with a foot throttle.

"It's your typical lawn mower engine, and you change the pulleys on it to run faster," Mack said.

Of course, the best way to learn how to build a racing lawn mower, is to look at one in person, both Mack and President of Semo Racers Club David Coomer said.

And it's not uncommon to find lawn mowers that reflect their drivers' personalities on the track, both Mack and Coomer added.

"A lot of the drivers love NASCAR and try do that special touch and paint it up like it's their stock car," Coomer, 33, of Whitewater said.

In a given race of 20 to 25 drivers, lawn mowers will usually run between 30 and 35 miles per hour.

It's very competitive said Mack, who has won his share of races.

"But you can't win them all," Mack said. "Some sometimes you break down, or the other guys are just faster than you are."

Races are comprised of a 15-lap heat race followed by the 25-lap feature race and are even announced through a PA system. Built by its members, the Semo Racers banked dirt track consists of three turns.

"It's a fairly safe sport," Mack assured. "... Very few wrecks occur. Every once in a while, we will have one."

Mack admitted he has turned his lawn mower over during a race before. "That's the way it goes," he said.

Drivers are required to wear helmets, and it's recommended they wear long-

sleeved shirts. Also a safety device attached to the mower is clipped onto the driver, so if he or she falls off, the motor shuts off.

Today Semo Racers Club has 20-plus members, and Coomer predicts that number to grow even more next year.

Drivers, who are both men and women, come as far as Fruitland, Cape Girardeau, Benton, Whitewater, Delta, Advance, Doniphan, Commerce and Poplar Bluff.

Typically, 200 spectators flock to the races held every other week in Allenville, Coomer said.

"Every race, it seems like, we have more people who come and watch," Coomer said.

Over the past couple years, club members have been asked to participate in the East Prairie Christmas parade as well as other small fairs throughout the region.

"The craziest thing is it started out as a once-a-year deal," Coomer said.

The track's ground is leased to the club by Coomer's father-in-law, Phil Thompson of Allenville, who is also credited for initiating the races in Allenville.

The idea for the races in Allenville started years ago when the town was looking for a way to draw a crowd to its annual Fourth of July weekend picnic, Coomer said.

"One year (at the picnic) we raced regular lawn mowers and said let's do it again next year and see what happens," Coomer recalled. "The next year some participants had mowers that were kind of crazy-looking, and when the race was over, everybody wanted to know when the next one was."

Eventually, the annual races evolved into a bimonthly event.

"A lot of people also don't realize we started the (lawn mower) races as a witness program to try to get people to know God and we kept it family -oriented," Coomer said.

There's no swearing, fighting or alcohol at the races, Coomer said.

"There's nothing out there that's free that you can take your family to and not have to worry about what the kids will see," Coomer said, adding that's what is great about the races.

With lawn mower racing, there's no cash purse -- but the rewards are just as good.

"If you like to race, it's a cheap way of getting to race," Mack said." And you have the same adrenaline rush (as stock car racing)."

For Coomer, it's the friendships that are the best part of racing.

"The winning part doesn't mean a lot to me," Coomer said. "More than anything it's the friends, good clean fun and the crowd."