By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
Lots of horsepower sped through the streets of downtown Kernville Saturday morning on the way to the rodeo grounds for an afternoon of racing. Lawnmower racing, that is.
The Kern County Lawnmower Racers edged their way into town for their annual visit as one of the main events of the Kernville Fall Festival. It became clear from the beginning that attendees were in for some family fun watching helmeted drivers speeding around a dirt track on uncommon gardening equipment. This down-to-earth sport was born with a sense of humor, but it is nevertheless an internationally recognized motorsport.
Lawnmower racing was formalized in England in 1973 when the British Lawn Mower Racing Association was established. Its goal is to support a low cost grass roots motorsport which is readily accessible to everyone. The sport spread worldwide and many other national organizations were formed, including two in the United States. There are national series races and world championships in which many participate, but in California it is most popular as a sport at regional festivals and fairs.
Local lawnmower racing started 15-18 years ago on the streets of Woody in a drag race format. Now it is represented by the Kern County Lawnmower Racers as an informal club of about 15-20 members who race monthly April to October at a private dirt racetrack in Glennville. During one year when the Glennville track was unavailable, races were held at the McNally Ranch in Lake Isabella.
The local club members enter one of two Lawnmower classes depending on the size of their modified lawnmower engines, or a SuperMod class which is for motorcycle engines on lawnmower frames. Racing engines of members range from about 25-90 horsepower, and can go 25-60 miles per hour; going fast is definitely one of the goals of these Kern County sod slingers. Races are run in heats of seven laps for each class, then a main event race of 10 laps.
One of the primary benefits of lawnmower racing is the camaraderie and sportsmanship shared by members. One of the female racers, Debbie Goad, said when she decided to learn to race, one of the original members, Jeff Barnett, became her teacher and mentor. Goad works for Houchin Blood Bank where accident victims are always in mind, and her supervisor was concerned about her becoming injured. But she said all of the guys watch out for her and give advice to make sure she is safe. This was echoed by another female racer, Toni Easterday, who said the other racers help her improve her competitiveness, too. All the men will provide engine parts, advice, and repair help to others as the need arises.
Judy Olson is not a racer but was so intrigued by the sport that she allowed the club to build a racetrack on her property in Glennville with the assistance of Gary Guinn of Guinn Construction who is an accomplished world record holder in lawnmower racing. Olson even has a concession stand and maintenance pits for the racers.
All members pitch in to keep the track in good order and to prepare tracks they are visiting, such as the Kernville rodeo grounds this past weekend. “Isabella Bob” Easterday and “Number 4” Greg Banks make racing arrangements as needed throughout the year, and encourage new members to join in on the fun at their Kern County Lawnmower Racers Facebook page.