- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. If you thought a lawn mower was only for cutting grass, think again.

A group of die-hard racing fans showed what a souped-up lawn mower can do at yesterday's sixth annual STA-BIL East Coast Regional and 18th annual Race Car Extravaganza.

The 30-some racers came to Harford County Airpark from as far away as Illinois and Wisconsin to don their helmets and bright-colored racing suits and crank their mowers before taking off on five-lap runs, sometimes traveling downward of 8 mph on a grassy racetrack.

"It's the NASCAR of lawn-mower racing," said Art Elsner, a retired local businessman who co-sponsored yesterday's race with the Level County Volunteer Fire Department, which raised money for burn victims.

"It's all about macho competition," Mr. Elsner said. "Everybody likes to race. Guys would race turtles if they could get on top of them."

Meanwhile, hundreds of lawn-mower racing enthusiasts cheered on their favorites as they relaxed on lawn chairs or bleachers at what they call the fastest-growing motor sport in the country.

Lawn-mower racing has become so popular that it warrants a 23-date national circuit and a 13-week series next summer on the Speed Vision Network.

There's no prize money, only trophies and bragging rights.

"It's fun and you get an adrenaline rush just by going fast," said Brian Burdette, a fish farmer from Aberdeen, Md., who competed in three of the six races yesterday against his older brother, Mike.

"You can have a lot of fun with it," Mr. Burdette said.

The races consist of several parts. First, all drivers remove the blades from their mowers so the grass is safe. Then, they choose a class in which to compete: Stock, IMOW (International Mower of Weeds), Prepared or Factory Experimental (FX).

Stock mowers are unaltered one-seat riding mowers that top out at speeds of 8 to 10 mph. FX mowers are juiced up through gearing changes and camshaft alterations and sometimes reach speeds in excess of 60 mph. IMOW mowers can travel up to 20 mph.

The racetracks, which are generally one-eighth to one-tenth of a mile long, are laid out like road courses, with two straightaways and several twists and turns.

The starts are LeMans style, with racers sprinting to their machines before taking off.

For most of the competitors, lawn-mower racing is an affordable way to compete in the often expensive world of motor sports.

"It's a good inexpensive family fun with a great sense of humor," said Bruce Kaufman, president of the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association. "We Americans love our lawns and we like to do things that are cheap. And this is it. We keep it fun but serious."

Just like any other sport, competitors spend hours planning their strategies on how to best outmaneuver opponents on the grassy track and keeping their mowers in tiptop shape.

"You try to start out front and you try not to run as fast as [the mower] can go," Mike Burdette, also an Aberdeen fish farmer, said after beating brother Brian to finish in one of the races yesterday. "Winning feels better than losing."

Brian Burdette has no hard feelings. "We were running one, two but then I blew a part out," he said. "It's a good major win for Mike. Anytime I can't win, I'd rather see him win."

"It's really all about the people and the excitement of beating the guys in the group," racer Mary Lou Boris, of Clarksville, Md., said after winning yesterday's Stock Class race.

"I've been threatened by Art [Elsner] for the last six months and it feels terrific knowing that I beat his clock," Mrs. Boris joked as she proudly held her trophy.

Meanwhile, Mr. Elsner quickly tried to come up with excuses as to why he finished second to Mrs. Boris, a competitor he says he has been gunning for several years.

"I should have never told her that I was going to beat her," he joked as he relaxed after the race in his bright-red jumpsuit. "I guess that's what I get for doing that."

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