On The Track
Gail D. Prentice
© Copyright 2020 by Gail D. Prentice
Nobody has ever accused lawnmower racing of being clean. In fact, it was quite dusty and often the smell of exhaust and half burned oil of the mower in front was quite nauseating.
As mud, grass, and even dust pelted the face shield of his helmet, Sammy knew that he had only three laps to make his move. Visibility was getting worse as the mud caked and streaked across his view. The dust and exhaust fumes were quite irritating. His eyes burned because of the exhaust, his nose was clogging up and his mouth was gritty because of the dust that hung over the track and boiled up under his helmet that protected head.
Swinging in close on the inside of the track on turn one, Sammy leaned forward, hoping to make a move to pass as they came out of turn two. The front tires of his racing lawnmower were about to touch the rear tires of the mower of Collin Traeger, who was running a strong race in the lead position. Sammy needed this race. He was down just a little in the total points and a win here would bring him back into contending for the points trophy at the end of the year.
Collin’s, Briggs and Stratton powered number seventy-seven, sounded perfect. It never dropped in RPM, nor did it even hint of a miss. The roar belching from the tailpipe was strong and loud. Behind him, he could hear Tom Rayfield on his number twenty-one’s Tecumseh as it bellowed, but it missed every now and then. However, Tom was third in the points and even if he just finished third, he would remain third in the year-end points, where he had been two years running.
As they came out of turn two, Sammy held tight to the inside lane as Collin slid just a little toward the outside, opening just a sliver of room for Sammy to ease in under his rear tire with his front tire. Holding tight to the steering wheel, Sammy braced for what he knew was inevitably going to happen. Collin was going to correct his slide and drop back down to the inside of the track and their tires were going to collide. He knew that if the tires touched, one of them was going to either lose control and spin out, both would spin out. Sammy had his mind made up that someone was going to spin out and it was not going to be him.
With a quick glance behind him, Collin saw the predicament that they were both in and he had to make a choice. He could make a move to force Sammy to slow down to let him back on the inside or he had to ease further out to the outside, allowing Sammy to have the advantage of holding the inside. If Collin caused the spin, it could cost him first place and put him at the back of the pack, as per the rules of the track. But if he could make it appear that Sammy caused the mishap, Sammy would go to the back and he would remain in the lead for the restart and certainly cinch the top points driver for the year, even though there were four races left.
Sammy held his own and hung on as if for life. He had to win this race. He took a quick glance to his rear and saw Tom closing in on his right rear tire. Things were getting very tense.
Collin straightened out of the turn and the two tires bumped. Blue smoke boiled as Collin’s mower slid even more up the track but more sideways, causing him to lose speed rapidly. Sammy turned slightly to the left to regain control and the left side of his mower dipped into the infield but for a moment. Tom stomped hard on his brakes to avoid T-boning Collin. Sammy momentarily blinked, trying to clear the smoke and dust from his eyes. When he reopened them, he did not see Collin nor did he hear Tom. Then the yellow flags began waving, bringing the race to a slower pace.
No sooner had the yellow flag appeared, the red flags started waving wildly. All machines were to stop immediately. Someone had either blocked the track in a dangerous position or tipped their lawnmower over.
As Sammy got his racing mower stopped, he looked back and saw Collin and Tom both in the center of the track and exchanging blows. Emotions were high and tempers were flaring as the season wound down and a careless move could and most likely would start a fight.
“Not good,” Sammy muttered to himself. “I am almost out of gas and I can’t sit here idling for long. This race needs to get finished.” Between heats races, Sammy was preoccupied with changing tires and putting a new drive belt on. Gas had completely slipped his mind.
Not being able to get off his mower to look at the plastic gas tank under his hood, he nervously shut his engine off to conserve the precious fluid. If his engine failed to start when they were told to go, he would be disqualified and pushed off the track.
Some of the track officials were busy settling the squabble that had erupted on the track and others started to re-establish the restart order.
The yellow flag re-appeared and Sammy hit the start button. The engine cranked rapidly for a few seconds, then blasted to life as his Kohler blared its dominance. He started to roll down the track. As he came around turn four, the official standing there, waved one finger in the air.
“GLORY!” Sammy shouted under his helmet. “I am in first place for the next two laps.”
However, that also meant that everybody would be bunched up tight again for the restart. As he came down the home stretch, he saw Collin and Tom parked in the infield. Collin’s mower had a broken right front spindle and Tom had a mangled hood and broken front axle. Collin threw his helmet on the ground about twenty feet ahead of where he stood and Tom examined the damage of his mower.
By the time everybody got around the next lap, all eight remaining racers were bunched up nicely in single file and ready for the green and white flags to wave the race on.
Rounding turn four, the flagman began to wave the flags. The race was started again, one lap to go.
Sammy opened the throttle and the twenty horsepower Kohler leaped into action. Going into turn one, he could hear the din of the rest of the pack. Turn two, he had a chance to glance back and see the slower drivers starting to spread out but the one that concerned him most was the bellow of the mower that was bumping his rear bumper as they opened into the back straight. He had to stay straight and not lose focus.
Turn three, he didn’t feel any bump but he could still hear the mower behind him. It was close.
Turn four, he peeked over his shoulder and saw that the distance between him and the man behind him had spread out by about ten feet. Smiling broadly, Sammy redirected his focus to the track ahead of him. He had it won!
The Kohler sputtered and died. Sammy instinctively shifted to neutral and held the clutch in. He was out of gas and needed to coast across the finish line.
The quietness of his engine allowed him to hear the roaring of the mower behind him, as they closed the gap almost instantly. Only feet away from the finish line, Sammy winced in near pain as Leroy Purvis blasted by to take first place and Ty Ramsey zipped in for second, while Sammy, just barely, inched his way to the finish line for third, as the checkered flag kept waving to the rest of the drivers as they sped by.
“Too bad, Sammy,” he heard the track announcer as he hooted and got the crowd to laughing. “If you would have been playing horse shoes, you would still have finished third.” He heard the crowd laugh. “I will have to admit, you put on a great show for the folks here this afternoon. You might try adding some more gas for the finale.”
Sammy got off his mower, smiled and waved exuberantly at the crowd, in spite of his disappointment in himself. After all, it is the group of fans that keeps us on a track to race. Though there is no prize money, it was the fans that paid the expenses and paid for the trophies.
Connie, Sammy’s wife came trotting out of the pit area with a gas can as she waved at the gathering of people, that had brought their own lawn chairs for the festivities. “If you think I am pushing, you’re nuts,” she called out as she laughed with the crowd.
“Good race, Sammy,” Connie grinned from ear-to-ear as her jet-black hair waved in the slight breeze. Her beauty was radiant, even though she was dressed in oily blue jeans and a plaid shirt with the sleeves cut short and ragged. “I should have filled the tank for you.”
“No, that was my job,” Sammy responded with a gentle smile. “At lease with third, I can run the semi-main and still get into the main event if I can place second.”
“We can do it,” Connie encouraged as she gave her husband a hug. “Let’s get her fired up and back to the pits. We only have five minutes before the semi.”
Pulling on his helmet, Sammy cranked the engine to life and eased the mower into gear to cruise around the track to the pits as Leroy finished his victory lap, returning the checkered flag.
“All drivers to the driver’s meeting area. All drivers to the driver’s meeting area,” announced the track official over the PA.
As the drivers made their way to the meeting, the pit crews were frantic to get the mowers ready for the next race. As the crowd looked over the pits, they were entertained as crew members raised hoods on some, others rolled the mower over on their side to change belts, pulleys or both. Some were stood up on the rear bumper to expedite tire changing.
“I realize that we are coming to the end of another year of racing,” the track official said sternly. “But we need to keep our cool. If you hadn’t noticed already, two of our regular drivers are not here. They were turned away this morning for cheating.
“Look, we all know the rules. Fighting will not be tolerated at any time for any reason. If you have a disagreement, you take it to the track officials and they will make the determination. That is the rules and we will not deviate from them. EVER!”
All the drivers stood there speechless, knowing that this last exhibition of temper was not acceptable.
“I am sorry, Collin,” Tom began, “I should not have said what I did when you got sideways in the track. “I was totally out of line…”
“We are not here at this meeting to establish fault or to make apologies. We are here to let you all know that this kind of action will never take place again. We have a very safe and fun sport here and we do not want to change that. Yes, we are very competitive, but…” he paused, “we are adults here and should act like it.
“Now, as per the rules of the Redneck Racing Association, that you all agreed to, Tom and Collin are banned for the remaining races of the season and will lose their accumulated points for fighting. You can settle your differences and make apologies as soon as this meeting is over.
“Let’s get out there and have a fun rest of the afternoon. Be safe and give the crowd a good race. We have the semi and the main event left. We will give you five extra minutes to get your machines ready. When the line-up order is called, be ready to run, be careful, be safe, and have fun,” he smiled as he turned to walk away.
All the drivers headed immediately to their pit except Collin and Tom. They stood there in silence until everybody was out of earshot.
“Collin,” Tom spoke first, “I am sorry. My temper got the best of me and I called you names that you did not deserve…”
“You’re right,” Collin snapped. “If it was my intention to crash, I would have done it to take Sammy out, not you. However, I did not deserve to be called names like that.”
“I was really upset,” Tom continued, as he extended his hand for a shake. “I honestly apologize and ask that we get this behind us and move forward. What can I do to help you get your mower ready for next year?”
“Drop out,” Collin sneered as he refused to shake Tom’s hand, then turned and walked away.
Tom walked over to his pit area, which was next to Sammy’s. He stooped over to look at his crunched hood and broken front axle.
“Not pretty is it?” Connie asked soothingly.
“Nope. But, it is what it is. I am sorry for my actions today. They were completely unnecessary.”
“It’s okay,” Sammy confirmed as he stood up and turned toward Tom. We all have our moments that we are not too proud of.”
“I just have too many of them. I am trying to be the best Christian that I can be, but then things like this happen.” Tom dropped his head.
Connie stepped next to him and touched his arm, “Lord,” she began, “Thank you that nobody was hurt. Thank you for Tom’s humility and even his guilt as he confesses it to you.”
Sammy stepped in and laid his hand on Tom’s shoulder, “Lord, guide Tom and all of us to be the best light possible for our Lord and Savior Jesus. Help us to band together as brothers and sisters in Christ, as we uphold each other. In spite of our failings, our tempers, and our differences, you are still Lord and you still forgive us if we are faithful to honestly ask for forgiveness.
"Direct us from this time forward, from this moment on that we might exalt Jesus as Lord of our lives. Amen.”
“Amen,” Connie and Tom repeated.
“Thanks, I really needed that,” Tom said with relief shining on his face. “What can I do to help you get ready for the next race. Let’s win this for Jesus.”
“Do you have a B-60 Kevlar belt? This one will probably make it through the semi but not the main event,” Connie beamed.
“Just so happens I have two of them,” Tom grinned as he walked over to his spare parts box.
Sammy rolled his mower over on its side and they worked joyously together to change the belt. They finished just in time for the roll call and line-up.
Sammy finished second in the semi-main event and second in the main, putting him second in the points standing for the year.
rest of the races of the year were going to be fun as a new
friendship and team began forming.