WINTERPORT, Maine— While hundreds of people were at the Winterport Dragway on Saturday to see fancy car after fancy car, for five drag-racing friends, it was all about lawn mowers.
During a car show Saturday, five souped-up lawn mowers competed in the Hot Rod Lawnmower Shootout.
Peter Gould of Corinna may be the one to blame for all this. He built three of the racing mowers, including a purple one for his daughter.
“We built it just to race it,” Gould said of his orange Case tractor.
To build it, Gould bought a generator so he could rip out the engine and install it in his racer.
“The kids started doing it and, of course, the adults got into it, too,” he said Saturday as he sat waiting for his race.
So maybe Gage Reynolds, 17, of Bangor is really the one to blame.
“We used to pick on him. Now he is kicking our butts,” said fellow racer Lenny “The Viper” Voisine of Waldoboro.
Voisine said they’re a competitive bunch. He has a red Craftsman stick-shift lawn mower he calls “Bad Attitude.” The five of them all race for points. At the end of the season in October, a Hot Rod Lawnmower Shootout champion will be named. For now, they race for points to earn that title.
“It’s just a bunch of guys acting crazy,” he said at the dragway.
A bunch of guys and a 12-year-old girl, that is.
Kassey Gould, 12, of Dexter drives the small purple tractor she helped her dad build from scraps.
“It’s my first time racing the lawn mower,” she said Saturday.
The preteen wore pink sneakers with a matching pink striped sweater to her race Saturday.
“[At school] they think I’m weird because I’m the only girl who drag races. No boys at school do. It’s fun,” she said.
When it came time to line up for the races, Kassey yanked the cord to start the engine. After the engine turned over, the lawn mower jerked forward a few times to the lineup area.
A random drawing pitted her against her dad.
To make the races fair, each lawn mower is tested for speed beforehand. The slower vehicle in each race gets a head start. In Kassey’s case, she got about three-quarters of the way down the 660-foot-long drag before her dad got to speed off. He won by 0.135 seconds.
The mowers drew a variety of amused looks from passers-by this weekend.
“Everybody likes them,” said vintage truck owner Josh Campbell of Corinth. “They’re smaller and less money.”
Certainly the collection of lawn mowers is less valuable than the dragway’s muscle cars, but Voisine said he put at least $1,000 into his Craftsman. Gould said he worked on his Case for about 200 hours — that’s how much work it took him to get his formerly 20 mph lawn mower to hit 59 mph.
People have come to expect the pint-size vehicles. According to track manager Rich Kopper, he gets calls a couple of days before each race asking whether the lawn mowers will compete.
For $12, anyone with a riding lawn mower can cruise down the runway for trophy prizes. The sport has evolved in its time at the Winterport Dragway.
“We started this six years ago for the kids to ride real lawn mowers,” said track president Bob Reynolds, stressing the word “real.” “Look at what it has become.”
Bob Reynolds, who is Gage’s grandfather, said that when the lawn mower races started, they ran them only halfway down the dragway.
“When we started this they were so slow that it reset the timing system before they reached the finish line. They dialed in minutes — not seconds,” Bob Reynolds said.
Bob Reynolds said his grandson’s lawn tractor now can go as fast as his Chevy pickup — but it might not be as reliable.
“A lot of them break. They have a tremendous amount of mechanical errors,” he said.
Brian Ranco of Bangor could attest to that. His racing lawn mower had transmission problems on race day. He and his friends sat around the tractor, which lay in grease-covered shambles between them. His friend, his shirt off, sweating, shook his head at him. Ranco didn’t get to race.
The next Hot Rod Lawnmower Shootout in Winterport is Saturday, July 10, with a rain date of July 17. For information, call the dragway at 223-3998.