Mark Steinwand, Mandan, N.D., traveled 350 miles Saturday to Brainerd for one reason -- to race his riding lawn mower at Brainerd International Raceway.
Racing lawn mowers is a blast, he said. "I would like to stock car race but can't afford it. This here is the next best thing."
This was the first time BIR hosted lawn mower races on a small track complete with hay bales to mark the corners. The grass and dirt track was located just south of the raceway's fast first turn, where superbikes reach speeds of 180 mph coming into the turn.
Richard Bohlman, a North Dakota Lawn Mower Racing Association member, helped make the lawn mower races become a reality at BIR.
The Tioga, N.D., resident recently moved to Brainerd. When the raceway staff contacted the United States Lawn Mower Racing Association for assistance it recommended Bohlman to help.
Most of the mowers had tachometers like this digital one mounted on their steering wheels. Some racers push their mower's engines to more than 6,000 rpm.
Bohlman, originally from Bemidji, was the owner of his own lawn mower racing track in Tioga. He said most of the NDLMRA sanctioned events are at county fairs and carnivals.
Overall, he said BIR's first event was well received by the racers.
"Hopefully by the end of the year we'll see more tractors," he said.
Count Steinwand, who is in his fourth year of racing, in.
He said he likes racing at other venues as well as in North Dakota.
Bleachers were provided for fans of the races but several fans stood and watched racers like Luke Kuusinen, Hibbing (left) and Omar Heinmen, Hibbing, race down the front straightaway.
He doesn't race your ordinary lawn mower. He races in the factory experimental class, the platforms intended to cover the blades are just for decoration.
A 13-horsepower Honda engine capable of turning 6,000 rpm (a Wissota Street Stocker turns between 6,800 and 7,200 rpm at North Central Speedway) powers his mower. This class also is the only one that allows centrifugal clutches -- the racer doesn't have to shift gears -- and small go-cart racing tires can be used.
Steinwand also has modified his engine, including building up the camshaft, shaving the head and lightening the flywheel.
He said these mowers in this class could be set up to go 100 mph.
On a track with a decent straightaway he estimates he can hit about 50 mph.
Richard Bohlman, Brainerd, (99) had Del Steinwand, and Don Gienger, Bismarck, N.D., close behind him as he raced them around the first corner during a FX (Factory Experimental) feature race Saturday at Brainerd International Raceway. This was the first time the raceway hosted lawn mower races.
He added that some racers could build their engines to produce 10,000 rpm.
"I don't like taking mine over 6,000," he said.
But before they even hit 1 rpm, foot power plays a huge role. On the green flag, drivers cross the track on foot, start their mowers and start racing. Mowers with remote starters are moved to the back of the grid.
He doesn't know how much his mower has cost him to build.
"I really didn't want to keep track," he said. "I'm thinking $2,500."
Not all classes will cost this much to race. The stock class will allow mowers off the showroom floor to be raced (must have a governed engine with 3,650 rpm maximum).
The other classes are IMOW, A/P, S/P, B/P and FX.
In IMOW, a racer may strengthen the mower's frame discreetly, reinforce the back rims on the inside and narrow the steel tractor deck to extend no more than 2 inches beyond the tire sidewalls on each side.
In A/P, S/P and B/P, several modifications are allowed including internal modification of the engines, the front axle may be pinned, bolted or welded and the throttle and brake controls may be relocated.
The racer's throttles in this class are always mounted on the steering wheel (a racer's foot would bounce too much to control a foot pedal on the tractor). Some of the racers also mount their brakes on the steering wheels.
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