Get your motor running

Mechanics, fishermen, carpenters, property managers, in-home nurses and one self-described Cajun.

They come from all walks of life, but several times a month they meet to share one true passion.

“That true passion is we’re all frustrated gear heads, who can’t afford a real race car,” Ric Kaser joked.

Kaser is the president of the Whidbey Island Blade Benders lawn mower racing team — one of the few remaining mower racing clubs in the Northwest Washington.

The Oak Harbor-based group has thrived for roughly seven years now.

Age and injuries, however, have taken a toll on the club’s membership enrollment the past two years. Once 15 to 17 racers strong, there are only half as many Blade Benders currently signed up.

Kaser hopes numbers will take a turn as they enter the peak of the summer racing season.

“We need some younger blood,” he said. “What’s important is to have a desire to race and the desire for camaraderie.”

The camaraderie was certainly evident as a group of seven racers sat around a table Oak Harbor’s Pizza Factory, joking and sharing stories on Wednesday night.

“The best thing about racing for me is not the races at all, it’s just hanging out with all of the different people who race,” Kevin McMickle said. “I don’t think I have ever had such a good bunch of friends that are interested in the same things that I am.”

The Blade Benders compete in the Northwest Lawn Mower Racing Association with various teams from the South Puget Sound, Omak and Canada.

Although races themselves highlight the sport, there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes.

According to Kaser, it can take 300 to 400 hours to disassemble and reconstruct a lawn mower body and finally soup up a motor so it’s ready to race.

Engines run from 8 to 26 horsepower and can get up to speeds of 25-35 mph on a dirt track or 50 mph on an asphalt surface.

Fronts are completely taken off and protective panels are placed along the sides of the mowers.

To some, including the group’s token Cajun, Brian Punch, piecing together the mower is what makes it all worth it.

“I think building the machine is the funnest part of the club — it’s something you create,” he said.

More expensive mowers can cost upwards of $1,000, but Kaser said a beginner could easily start out at $400. He also noted mechanical experience isn’t necessary as everyone works together and helps one another.

WIBB competes in its next event, June 17 in Omak. The group used to host two races a year, but due to insurance complications hasn’t hosted an event since the summer of 2004. Insurance won’t be an issue in 2007, however, as they have already sorted things out and plan to return racing to Oak Harbor.

Kaser said accidents occasionally happen in the sport, but WIBB has always emphasized safety among its members by using neck braces, back gear, helmets, long pants and gloves.

“Some of the clubs don’t care and they’re the ones that cause the problems,” he said.

Along with annual races, WIBB participates in several community events including Relay for Life and the local soap box derby. They have also raised thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society at different lawn mower racing events.

The Blade Benders meet at 7 p.m., the first and third Wednesdays of the month at the home of their sponsor, the Oak Harbor Pizza Factory. Anyone 16 or older, male or female, is invited to join. For more information call Ric Kaser at 679-1583 or Paul Burt at 678-9298.

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