Lawnmower drivers race 20 laps in battle for Westmoreland Fair trophy
A plume of dust explodes as a dozen lawn mowers skid around a curve in the dirt track marked by hay bales, and the wheels of their juiced-up machines lift off the ground.
For 10 laps, racers maneuver around the 535-foot circular track to secure a favorable position for a 20-lap trophy race at the Westmoreland Fair Saturday in Mt. Pleasant Township.
Racers representing at least seven states and Canada flooded the fair's grandstand for Saturday's double-header.
With 11 classes of mowers, from standard machines going a few miles per hour to the FX category, or “factory experimental,” where mowers zoom past at 60 mph, the races take about 2 1⁄2 hours from the first heats to the final laps.
Racers compete for trophies and bragging rights, but no cash, said Bruce Kaufman, of Northbrook, Ill., president of the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association.
“We keep our sense of humor, of course, but our competitors do take it seriously because it's a STA-BIL (points race),” Kaufman said.
Tony Krivda, 32, of Belle Vernon, got into lawn-mower racing after participating in other motor sports, but said he far prefers the friendly competition he's found on the lawn mower circuit.
“When I was in cart racing, it was all about the title. Here it's all about fun,” Krivda said.
Krivda's blue-and-white mower, competing in the FX class, only resembles a lawn mower. It runs on a lawn mower engine, but otherwise he hand-fabricated nearly every part over the last few months.
“I'm really so glad this came to Pennsylvania,” Krivda said. “We never had local races; they were always four to five hours away.”
With five years of racing on the national circuit under his belt, Jason Brown, 34, of Clements, Md., comes to see friends as much as to race. He planned to race in three classes while his daughter Jordan, 11, got ready for the junior prepared class where her mower will reach about 23 mph.
“It's almost like a little family reunion every time we go to a race,” Jason Brown said. “It's all about being on the track and having fun.”
Clad in jumpsuits or long sleeves and pants, helmets, neck braces, goggles and boots, racers and referees take safety seriously.
To be eligible to compete, mowers must undergo a technical and safety inspection before they race. Blades must be removed and the machines must run on a lawn mower engine.
Owners can tweak and tinker with the machine to lower it, widen it, reinforce parts and give it more horsepower — so long as it still looks like a lawn mower.
Racers get a rolling start with an underground wire picking up a signal on each mower to clock its start and finish times on a computer to within 1/1,000 of a second.
Saturday's double-header at the Westmoreland Fair marked the 11th and final racing venue before the 20th annual STA-BIL Northeast Summer Nationals season concludes with the Keeps Gas Fresh finals in Delaware, Ohio, Sept. 1 and 2.
Kaufman said some of the best national competitors were in attendance because they were jockeying for strong point totals heading into the finals.
“At the last points race of the season, we always see unexpected people who travel long distances to get in a better position for nationals,” Kaufman said. “They're going to be able to pop in and pop out and get two races under their belts in the same day.”
Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.