Tucked away on the outskirts of Perry County, at the Patton Saddle Club, is a different kind of horsepower.
The Patton Lion’s Club is currently in its 10th season of hosting lawnmower races at the venue, with its latest event on June 11. For Lion’s Club member John Preston, the origins come right out of a storybook.
“The Southeast Lawnmower Association asked to come to one of our meetings,” Preston said. “They pitched if we would consider lawn mower racing. We talked about it as a club and thought we could do this. We started with 25 lawnmowers and tried to get the word out about our races and before we knew it this thing was bigger than we ever expected. If you went onto Wikipedia and typed in ‘lawnmower racing’ Patton is the first thing that pops up. It is really incredible.”
Then the phenomenon was born from there, but the venture was a scary one.
“I’m not going to lie, we were worried at first, because this is a horse arena first and foremost and we still have to pay rent here,” Preston said. “We made $1,500 that first night and we thought that maybe we had something.”
Racers come from mainly five different states to compete on the clay and dirt track. Saturday’s races were considered a “light night” by those involved with 35 mowers. There are as many as 80 machines racing on a given night. The venue has also hosted a national competition for the last three years in September, the “National Summer Shootout.”
However, these are not your garden-variety lawn mowers that a person will see on the weekends cutting grass.
“Not by a long shot,” Lion’s Club President Dakota Huffman said. “These are some fast machines.”
“You can put as much money into these things as you want, just like anything else,” Gary Martin of the Lion’s Club said.
Really all a person had to do was watch the final race of the night when it was stopped when a racer ended up in the wall.
“These things can go anywhere from 40-50 miles per hour,” Huffman said. “In some of your bigger venues they can get up to 65-70 miles per hour. It is really a different feeling when you are out on the track.”
The races are divided into different age groups and engine sizes, however there isn’t a zero-turn category. Ages range from elementary school, all the way to a racing team called “the Old Farts” who are In their 70s. The races aren’t limited to just boys either as several female competitors could be found on the track as well.
The youngest competitor on Saturday was Isaac Swift of O’Fallon who is six years old and runs on a mini-mod machine.
“I really like going fast,” he said.
For his father, Ryan, he is not nervous about his son being out on the track…yet.
“Tonight he was the only out there by himself,” Ryan Swift said. “Seth Weston is his cousin and he also races. My parents brought him down one weekend and he was four-years-old then and he fell in love with it. We bought him a lawnmower like the next week. We think it’s cool and it’s a family atmosphere.”
That is exactly the vibe that Preston and the rest of the Lion’s Club pride themselves in. “We do this because of the spectators who want to come out and have fun on a Saturday night,” Preston said. “This is a place where families can come rather cheaply and maybe see something they have never seen before. On some of our bigger nights, we will race until almost 11 p.m. and these people will stay all night. It’s really amazing.”
The next race event will be the organization’s Independence Day celebration Saturday, June 25, and it will be complete with fireworks.
“That’s our biggest local race of the year,” Huffman said. “Our parking lot will be full and we usually have about 300 cars lined up out there. I encourage anyone to come out and watch us race. We try to put on the best show that we can.”
For videos of the June 11 racing, go to the Republic Monitor's YouTube channel, at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCj-7rkeRZSm-gpGNNhN448w.
Justin Hotop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.