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[caption width="250" caption=" Competitors in the National Lawn Mower Championship round a corner during racing at the Delaware County Fairgrounds (GAZETTE | KATE LIEBERS) "][/caption]

KATE LIEBERS

Staff Writer

Lawn mowers reached speeds of 50 miles per hour at the Delaware County fairgrounds this weekend, but not a single blade of grass was cut.

Instead of emitting aromas of freshly cut lawn, these mowers produced overwhelming smells of fuel, burning rubber and damp dirt. The drivers weren’t striving to spruce up the field, but instead were competing for the title in the National Lawn Mowing Champion.

Audience members plugged their ears as the 25 horsepower engines roared around the track. Some drivers balanced on two wheels as they took the curves, and a few toppled over onto their backs or sides — all resumed racing uninjured.

Spectators shared in the devastation when the engine wouldn’t start or when a belt broke on the final lap, and gasped when one machine would run up onto another.

It was lawn mowing in arguably its most thrilling form.

For the past five years, United States Lawn Mower Racing Association (USLMRA) has held its finals at the Delaware County Fairgrounds.

On Sept. 3, drivers from around the country, in seven different classes of mowers, competed for the championship title. The series marks the last of 19-points races across the country and was broadcast nationally on FoxSportsNet.

As one might expect, these were not every-lawn lawn mowers. Stripped of their blades and designed for speed, the competition was the only thing these machines set out to cut.

So intense was the competition, Michigan resident Donna Mikula said, that she would “go to the bathroom and cry and throw up” before the races.

Her son, Jayson Mikula, and husband, Jim Mikula, competed together Saturday in the class with the second most powerful engines.

Despite her nerves, Donna Mikula was proud of her son’s accomplishments. At 34-years-old, Jayson Mikula was the champion of his class for five consecutive years.

Jayson Mikula lined his green and yellow mower at the front of the line to begin the race. About a dozen competitors lined their mowers along side him, then took their stance on the opposite side of the dirt track.

With the wave of a flag, the racers ran to their vehicles, turned the key, then began the ten-lap chase around the 565-ft course.

At least, that was the plan. While the others completed the first turn, Jayson Mikula remained in his first ranking slot, still trying to turn the motor.

The yellow flags signaled the racers to start over. The uncooperative mower eventually came alive — after all the racers had passed.

Jayson Mikula was one of three racers who had accumulated the most points before the Saturday race. Not solely based on speed, the USLMRA ranks racers on a point system similar that of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).

One of the other top racers was Jason Brown. His chances at the championship looked promising, until his belt busted as he was making the final lap.

Consequently, and to his surprise, Tennessee resident Ron Rollman won the championship for that mowing class.

“It was a David and Golliath story,” said Rollman, who described himself as the rookie competing against a 5-year champion and a 19-year veteran. “I was the last man standing.”

About 200 people attended the weekend races. Tim Wood, President of the Delaware County Fair Board, said it was the “best crowd we’ve ever had.”

Since it was established in 1992, the USLMRA network has grown to more than 40 states nationwide. It is touted as a relatively inexpensive hobby in which families can participate together.

Indeed, the finalists at the fairgrounds this weekend represented a wide range of ages and experience levels, and included both males and females.

Bobby Cleveland, deemed the World’s Fastest Lawn Mower Driver, said the races have become more interesting as the playing field has expanded.

“Back in the day, I’d win all the time with basically a stock engine,” said Cleveland. “Well, now there are so many out there that can win. It makes it a lot more fun to race, because you’re really doing something if you come in the top five.”

The excarticleent was evident in Kevin Penne, who was the champion of the fastest class of mowers.

“It’s better than Christmas,” he said.

Penne, an Illinois resident, attributed his success to correctly building his own mower.

The best part of racing mowers, he said, is “finishing the race with the machine that I built and know that it did so good.”

Cleveland said the racers don’t earn a monetary reward, “just a trophy and bragging rights.”

Perhaps that explains the beers that the competitors shared with one another immediately after the race.

“We might be ill for just a second, but by the time we get off the mower, we’re just fine,” said Cleveland. “Because it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a stinkin’ lawn mower.”

For more information about the lawn mower racing series and for a complete list of racers’ rankings, visit letsmow.com.

kliebers@delgazette.com

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