New motorsport rivals NASCAR

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Gearheads in the Knoxville area are turning their attention away from NASCAR, the Indy 500, and even drag racing, and devoting their talents and ambitions to the motorsport taking the area by storm: lawnmower racing. Racing lawnmowers has been a recognized sport for some time, but until recently, it had not caught on in the East Tennessee area.

According to Knox Lawn Racing (KLR) president Brent Spinner, lawn mower racing offers participants something that other types of racing cannot: the ability to participate with a very low budget. “Most people already have a lawnmower laying around the shed, others can get one pretty cheap from the Thrifty Nickel. It don’t take much to get a mower running faster. Reducing weight by removing the mowing deck really helps. Nitrous oxide goes a long way, too,” he explained.

Semifinals during the February rains.

East Tennessee has a very long mower racing season, he went on to explain. “Nobody mows in the winter or fall, and in the summer it don’t rain so the grass don’t grow. The average Murray or John Deere can be converted for racing and back again in just a few hours.”

Some people, like Jonathon Hunter of Karns, likes to leave the performance options on his mower even when he isn’t racing. “At the end of the race, I just slap the mow deck back on,” he explained. Hunter’s mower, a 1989 Murray 12.5 horsepower, is modified more than most. He upgraded to a performance exhaust with titanium header, sport-tuned suspension, nitrous oxide injection system, and clear-corners. “When I am trying to mow in a hurry, I just rev the motor all the way up, point the mower, inject some nitrous, and away I go. It reduces my mowing time by 85%.”

Many of these engine modifications are done using parts machined by the individual who owns the mower. According to machine shop specialist Lou Verigno, the availability of performance mower parts is very limited. “Sport tuning a lawnmower is a science, really,” said Verigno. “You can upgrade your plugs and wires, but to really get the power flowing you have to get into some machine work. Not a lot, though. The average bill for a first-time sport tuning comes under $1000 usually.”

KLR holds races most weekends around East Tennessee. It is quite a spectator sport, complete with accidents, like NASCAR, but typically in slow motion by comparison. Injuries are usually less dramatic, and only five people were killed last season from injuries related to lawnmower racing accidents. The new season starts next month, as the old one wraps up at the end of this month.