Lawnmower racing growing at a fast clip; March 22 event at Sweet Berry Farm

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

Dennis Drake gets his two racing lawnmowers ready for an event March 22 at Sweet Berry Farm, 1801 FM 1980 between Marble Falls and Granite Shoals. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Dennis Drake gets his two racing lawnmowers ready for an event March 22 at Sweet Berry Farm, 1801 FM 1980 between Marble Falls and Granite Shoals. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

TOBEYVILLE — Who says watching TV isn’t good for you? Just ask Kingsland resident Dennis Drake, who was enjoying a program about eight years ago on the Discovery Channel when he found a new passion.

One that, ironically, got him out of his chair and onto his lawnmower. Well, fundamentally a lawnmower; everything after that is a matter to settle on the track.

You see, the TV show Drake was watching featured a bunch of speed-crazed folks racing around a dirt track on lawnmowers.

Yeah, that’s right: lawnmowers.

“They’re not exactly what you’d use to mow your lawn,” Drake said with a laugh. After watching the show, he turned to his wife and said, “I could do that.”

And that he has done along with winning two state championships (2011 and 2013). Drake and other like-minded people gather as often as they can to see who has the fastest lawnmower, though a lot of the race comes down to the skill of the driver.

Drake recently stripped down and rebuilt his two racing lawnmowers. One is in the IMOW class.

“That’s the most regulated class,” he said. “It’s a stock engine. You have to have a govern (on the engine) so it doesn’t go over 3,150 rpms. It has a 8-to-1 gear ratio.”

He continued with the list of rules governing the class then summed it up by describing it as “a racers class,” meaning that, all things being basically equal with the machines, it’s the people sitting in the lawnmower seats that make the most difference.

The best the mower can do is about 24 mph (imagine cutting the back lawn at that speed).

His other mower, sporting white paint and big, red strawberries, follows a different storyline. This is Drake’s C/P class mower.

Of course, there are rules, but the main one is — apparently — make it fast.

“It’s a highly modified motor,” Drake said. “There are quite a few goodies in that one.”

Under the hood, the motor looks like nothing you’d find on a stock lawnmower. The engine is formidable. When asked how fast the lawnmower would go, Drake smiled.

“The C/P will go as fast I dare let it,” he said. “If I took it out on the road out there and just opened it up, it could reach nearly 70 miles per hour.”

On the short, dirt courses, the mower likely doesn’t reach that speed, but just knowing it could leaves racers a bit giddy.

While probably not a mainstream sport (officials are working on it), lawnmower racing has built up a following — and leagues. Drake is a member of the Lone Star Mower Racing Association. The league has seven races a year in which competitors earn bragging rights, trophies and points. At the end of the year, the points are totaled up and class winners are announced. Drake won the 2013 title for the C/P class, which he also won in 2011.

He currently leads the class as well for 2014.

But all that could change with each race. The next one happens to be in Drake’s backyard on March 22 at Sweet Berry Farm, 1801 FM 1980 between Marble Falls and Granite Shoals. This is the third year Sweet Berry Farm has hosted a race.

This race is unique in that it’s also a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The event is called the Mike Cupps Memorial Race in honor of Cupps, a lawnmower racer, who died of colon cancer in 2010.

The contest takes on even more meaning, according to Drake, after the loss of another association member, Jill Rice. She passed away after a battle with cancer on Dec. 24, 2013.

“Cancer is just devastating,” Drake said.

Dan and Gretchen Copeland, owners of Sweet Berry Farm, open their facility for the race. But it goes beyond that, Drake said.

“Every time I say, ‘Dan, I have an idea’ or ‘I want to try this,’ Dan says he’ll pay for it,” Drake said. “That just says so much about Dan and Gretchen. We’re so grateful for their willingness to help us out.”

The racing starts at 11 a.m. March 22. The entry fee is $5 per person. There also will be live music featuring bluegrass band The Baker Family, featuring 15-year-old Trustin Baker on fiddle, banjo, guitar and vocals. He won the 2013 Junior National Grand Masters fiddle championships at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn. Along with Trustin, his sister Carina, 13, plays the mandolin and jig dances while brother Elijah, 10, plays the upright bass and sings. Mother Carrie plays the guitar and sings as well.

“I know a lot of people have never seen a lawnmower race, so this is a great chance to experience one,” Drake said.

Go to www.lsmra.com for more on lawnmower racing and the Mike Cupps Memorial Race.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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