Lawnmower racers mud-dle through

Mount Vernon’s Bill Sanford didn’t let the weather or a host of competitors stop him from picking up four first-place trophies in Sunday’s lawnmower races held at the Old Rodeo Grounds off of Fakkema Road.

Sanford took first place in the 8 HP (horsepower) trophy dash, the 8 HP B Main, the 8 HP A Main on his own mower, and then using a borrowed mower scored a first in the 12 HP A Main event.

“The weather didn’t bother me, it just made the track better,” said a mud-splattered Sanford after one of his four victories on the day.

The Northwest Lawnmower Racing Association’s event in Oak Harbor began with drizzle and it quickly turned into a downpour that left the track muddy and spectators wet. According to NWLMRA secretary Skip Johnson, it made for good racing but wasn’t so good for the crowd.

“I think the weather cost us some people coming out, but the rain is fine for (the racers) it keeps the dust down,” said Johnson, who took third in the 12 HP Main.

Those who did turnout for the day had a variety of events to keep them occupied. Besides the lawnmower racing there were souped-up lawnmower called Custer Drag Racer, vintage tractors, and a performance by Creedence Clearwater Revisited singer John Tristeo, who sang the National Anthem.

But the main event was the lawnmower racing, a sport that has a die-hard following amongst the competitors that were in Oak Harbor on Sunday. The tight-knit group competes in events from Sequim to Abbottsford, British Columbia.

“It’s cool,” said Sanford. “I got into it because I thought my kids would like it. After a while they didn’t want to do it, but I kept with it.”

The mowers, which can reach speeds of 20-25 miles per hour on the track, are all stock. Racers are allowed to change the air filters and take off the governors, but they can’t modify the engine in any other way. The racers all help each other with mechanics and good-natured ribbing

“It’s a great group of guys, everyone helps one another and it’s a lot of fun,” said Burlington’s Troy Anderson, who scored a second-place finish in the 12 horsepower event. “It’s a cheap, fun sport. The most expensive thing is your engine but that lasts about three of four years. You can race all day on a tank of gas - 10 bucks a day isn’t bad.”

After the trophy dashes and the drag races, the 8 HP B main was the first of three main events to be held. As the rain really started to come down Sanford jumped out to a big lead from the start and won the 12-lap event easily. The real duel was for second as Oak Harbor’s Myron Brundage, Bow’s Steve Lacey and Oak Harbor’s Brian Olsen were all in the hunt as the race neared the end. The trio continued to swap spots and when the mud settled, Olsen took second with Lacey placing third and Brundage in fourth.

The 12 HP A main was next and after two restarts finally got underway. On the first attempt there was a crash on the first lap so the race was started again. On the second attempt, Anderson jumped the gun with a false start and was sent to the back of the pack. The third try was a charm and the event got under way.

Despite some wipeout and wrecks in the slick conditions, Sanford pulled out his third victory of the day on a borrowed mower from fellow racer Bruce Burd. Sanford took first followed by Anderson who came from the back of the pack to take second and Johnson, who grabbed third place.

“The track was in almost ideal condition, the rain actually helps it out,” Anderson said. “There just isn’t many areas to pass. If someone gets in front of you at the start it’s tough to get around them.”

The day was capped with the main event - the 8 HP A main with 12 racers going 12 laps. Again Sanford jumped out to an excellent start but soon Burd managed to catch up and the two dueled to the end for the checkered flag. Sanford pulled it out though as Burd could never slip by him.

“I just couldn’t get around him,” Burd said about the finale.

Burd settled for second, followed by Anderson in third and Brundage in fourth.

Despite the weather all who were there – the racers and the fans – had a good time. The racers might have had to spend some extra time getting all the mud out, but they all made it clear that lawnmower racing is a sport that everyone can enjoy.

“We have racers from 16 to 60,” Anderson said. “If you can drive a lawnmower you can race.”

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