“Gentlemen, start your engines!” Can you smell the hot asphalt and fresh axle grease? Listen. Do you hear the shouts of cheering fans and the steady hum of motors eager to let loose and run at wide-open speeds? It’s all of these things and more that draw racing fans to local and national tracks across the country. For Delaney Ruehmkorf, however, it’s the support of fans and the thrill of competition that drive him to excel at his sport: racing custom-built, super-modified lawnmowers. The Great Dane Trailers mechanic and race mower driver spoke with MB about the details of this unique sport and his passion for living life in the fast lane.
I first heard about lawn mower racing from several different people. My dad and I even built [a racing mower] together. It was a piece of junk, but I won the national championship with it. I’ve always worked in mechanics. Growing up, my mom knew I would have a job that required me to work with my hands because I was always taking her couches apart and looking at the screws.
I’ve been racing these mowers for 14 years now. My first race was in March of 1999 in Citronelle. I came in as a rookie trying to earn some respect. It helped me gain a foothold in the sport.
Most race speeds average between 55 and 70 mph, depending on the track. I’ve been clocked at 89 mph in a race setting. On a drag strip you could easily reach over 100 mph.
As far as the motors go, Dixie Chopper is a good place to find cheap motors and then modify them. Our two favorites are the Briggs & Stratton and Vanguard motors. The Kohler Command is the most common. It’s everything out of a Chevrolet 350 racecar, so it makes for big horsepower.
There are different classes for racing. The kids’ class mowers have regular custom-built chassis, but the motors cannot be modified. These can run at about 15 to 30 mph, but the kids only race at about 9 mph and their decks have to be 4 inches off the ground (standard stock mowers are 8 inches off the ground). The super-modified class mowers are custom built by hand. They can easily go for around $10, 000 (quality stock mowers usually go for $2, 500 or less).
Safety and protection is always a factor. Years ago, drivers were required to wear leather boots above the knee, but now it’s carbon fiber racing shoes. I wear a fire retardant jacket and a Valhalla 360 Plus Device that straps under my chest. In the event of a crash, you want something that will protect your neck, sternum and spinal cord. My helmet is Department of Transportation and race approved. I see some guys just wearing gloves and a T-shirt. They’re playing with their lives by doing that.
I see big things for the future of this sport. I plan to take my league to a reality TV show. In England, the mowers are called sod slingers. The rumor is that the sport started there. I want the sport to be as mainstream as NASCAR. I also want to talk to high school kids to stress the importance of math, reading and writing, because all of that is part of working in mechanics.
To learn more about lawnmower racing, visit the U.S. Lawnmower Racing Association at letsmow.com, or MAC Racing at macracingmowersports.com.
Watch races locally at the Dixie Outlaws Track, 17355 Prine Road, Citronelle.
text by Joshua D. Givens • photo by Amanda Roberds