Lawn mower races rev up fans at Island County Fair

Any politician will tell you: Nothing beats the excitement of a miraculous, come-from-behind win.

For Scott Dudley, Sunday’s sweet victory was not at the end of his campaign to be Oak Harbor’s next mayor. Instead, he was one of three celebrity racers who strapped themselves into tricked-out riding lawn mowers for a dirt-churning race around the horse arena at the fair Sunday.

Dudley was losing to Lonnie Emery for much of the race as the local farrier hugged the turns on the bale-lined track and dressed Dudley in a fine coating of dirt and dust.

But Dudley shot past Lonnie Emery on an inside pass around a corner during one of the final laps. With Emery and a huge dirt cloud on the heels of his spinning wheels, Dudley rocketed across the finish line for first place.

Grabbing the checkered flag for a victory lap, Dudley was euphoric.

“That was great!” Dudley said. “It definitely gets your heart rate up.”

It would be nice, he said, if the fantastic finish wasn’t his last.

“We’re hoping this continues,” he laughed.

The lawn mower races at this year’s fair were a first for Langley. Nearly a dozen members of the Super Stock Lawn Mower Racing Association came out for an afternoon of racing, much to the delight of spectators on both sides of the horse arena.

Jacob Strain, a 23-year-old from Gold Bar, brought his trusty racer, No. 41.

“This mower, in the right conditions, will go 60 mph,” he said.

He’s been racing mowers for about six years now.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a cheap motor sport,” he said. “It’s definitely a kick in the pants.”

Strain bought the mower used, when he was 10, for cutting his neighbor’s lawn.

“I think I paid 80 bucks for it,” he said.

Its original 7-horsepower motor has since been replaced with a Briggs & Stratton engine, he said, before slipping into the mystical language of the gearhead: “... 28-cubic inch, overhead valve, 10.25:1 compression ...”

During one break in the mower races, another competitor came over for a closer look at Strain’s machine.

“What do you have under the hood?”

“It’s not stock anymore,” Strain said.

“That’s obvious!” Chuck Cofer exclaimed.

Strain comes from a racing family, but one that’s usually devoted to hot rods, hydroplanes and drag racers. His father has seen him race, though, and is now putting together his own mighty mower.

“We’ll be having a father-son competition next year, for sure,” he said.

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