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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Ticket #5: Drivers, start your lawnmowers

This is the fifth in a series of 18 stories examining the best events an Indiana sports fan would want to see over a lifetime.

The names Andretti, Unser, Foyt and Mears resonate with racing enthusiasts across this state. But in the north-central Indiana burg of Twelve Mile (population 1,138), it's names like Troyer, Owens, Ulerick and Hopper that make the young farm boys star-struck.

Those are some of the legendary names of winning drivers in the greatest spectacle in racing – lawnmower racing, that is.

The 49th annual Twelve Mile 500 Lawnmower Race will be battled for on July 4 (first of four races begin at 1 p.m.).

“We've always said it's the second-best race in Indiana,” race director Mark Lowe told The News-Sentinel last year. “Now that there is also the (NASCAR) Brickyard 400, we don't want to be third.”

The event began in 1963 and is a fundraiser for the Twelve Mile Lions Club. Over the years it has grown from a few area residents climbing off their tractors and out of their kitchens to venture into town (located about six miles west of the intersection of U.S. 31 and Indiana 16) to watch their husbands, sons and granddads (even two women competed in the inaugural race) race for bragging rights to the now more than 1,000 race fans who flood Plank Hill Park.

How exciting is this 60-lap, 15-mile challenge of testosterone, guile and luck? Exciting enough to attract racers from around the Midwest and gain notoriety after coverage by the Indianapolis Star and CBS News (yes, Katie Couric espoused the greatness of this American tradition).

In years past, the mowers' speeds have exceeded 30 mph. However, to ensure safety, Lions officials now watch carefully and try to place a 15 mph speed limit on the drivers as they race around a baseball diamond and through trees in the park.

Each year there are three races. The first is a race with a standard 4-cylinder Briggs engines (must have a transmission). The second is the Briggs Super Stock race, which is open to mowers with centrifugal clutch/torque converter drives or those not utilizing the entire original mower frame. The final competition is the Modified event, which loosens up the rules of “tweaking” your two-cycle mower to the fullest extent.

Thirty-three racers will compete for a chance to win up to $250 in prize money.

“It's become quite a big deal,” Lowe said.