Mower racing a hit with Flood Fest crowd

Monday, October 1, 2007
Wayne Galley and B.J. Matthews checked out a 1922 Ford T-Bucket on Sunday at the Commerce Floodfest Car Show. According to Galley and Matthews, this year's show had more entries than previous years, giving them plenty to look at.
(Aaron Eisenhauer)

Commerce, Mo. -- Pitting sputtering lawn mowers against one another as they race around a dirt track may not be the most obvious way to commemorate a town's resilience.

But when competitors fight for the lead on machines going 40 mph and use strength and skill to stay on their mowers without losing their balance, resilience is a word that comes to mind.

At Commerce Flood Fest on Sunday, a community festival celebrating the fact that the town bounced back after nearly being wiped out by a flood in 1995, the lawn mower races drew a crowd of at least 90 spectators who lent their vigorous cheering to the thrum of the motors.

"It's cheap entertainment," said Phillip Kohler of Delta, before racing his new lime green mower for just the second time.

"We like being competitive and try to all get together and have a good time," Kohler said.

Kohler built the mower himself and worked on it every day for three weeks, his wife Christina said.

Ironically, Kohler's lawn went unmowed during the process, because he'd taken the motor out of their riding lawn mower to put in his racing machine, only to sell it to a fellow racer at a competition.

"I told him, 'I hope you enjoy pushing a push mower around the yard,'" said Christina Kohler.

The race was organized by Semow Lawn Racers Inc. of Allenville, Mo., a group that holds races every other Saturday and organizes open competitions at events across Southeast Missouri.

Competitors raced their lawn mowers past the green flag Sunday during the Commerce, Mo., Flood Fest lawn mower race. (Photo courtesy of Keith Dillard)

Though the field in Sunday's races was all male, there is one female who usually competes, and most of drivers' wives know how to race, Christina Kohler said.

"We're trying to get a group of female racers. We'd call it a powder puff race," she said.

Good sportsmanship is emphasized throughout the races, evidenced by rules requiring all the drivers to stop and wait should another competitor's machine break down. A driver has two minutes to correct the malfunction, and the race continues.

During the first race, a belt snapped on Kohler's machine while he was pulling further into the lead, and he was forced to pull over into the infield of the 200-yard banked track.

Once Kohler replaced the belt, he could rejoin the race, but had to start from the back of the pack. Still, he covered enough ground to finish second.

"I didn't think I'd catch up to second. I was moving," Kohler said.

Of the three featured races, Kohler took first in the "stock" heat, for mowers with less than 13-horsepower engines, and the "modified" heat, for mowers that have adjustments made to make them faster, such as different carburetors or pistons added. Jonathan Stidham, of Whitewater, Mo., won the "superstock" class, for single-cylinder, 13-horsepower engines and up.

The winners received trophies instead of cash to keep the focus on fun, said Kohler.

"Too many people get hurt if they do it for money," he said.

In addition to the lawn mower races, visitors to the two day festival, which began at 11 a.m. Saturday, also enjoyed chicken and dumplings dinners, a karaoke contest, a car show, a mule jump and music by Classy Chassy Country.

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