July 16th & 17th found some of the USLMRA’s teams and drivers in Sparta, Michigan for the next stop in the STA-BIL Lawn And Garden Mower Racing Series. The 9th annual STA-BIL Great Lakes Summer Nationals Race For Huntington’s Disease Research is held the third week July every year at the Paul C Mitchell Airport. This race has become one of the races to make for not only the USLMRA but this year also saw Ryan “The Bandit” Kerr and Dennis “Den Man” Lefebvre from Canada’s Western Ontario Outlaws busting out passports to make the event International!
The Mikula family and the Michigan Lawn Mower Racing Association put on one of the top events of the year. The facilities are top notch, the track is some of if not the best grass mowers will eat all year, the competition and hospitality are truly awesome!
We rolled into town Friday afternoon and got in on what little bit of prep there was left to do. By the time racers started pouring in Saturday everything was 100% ready to go. Though all of our venues do an excellent job, nothing beats a venue set up completely by racers for the racers. Thanks to the excellent preparation by the MLMRA and the professionalism of the USLMRA Staff the weekend of racing went off with out a hitch.
Saturday morning many of us headed downtown to take part in the parade. I put my new transmission through its paces seeing if I could break a new parade record for fastest backwards mower, Larry “Teddy Bear” Benning brought a smile to a lot of little faces as he drove the route doing what else but handing out Teddy Bears! Dale Becker laid some smoke doing pavement donuts and I think Art Neavill, Jayson and Jim shook more hands and slapped more “fives” than a politician.
The track was just great. A 200-foot front stretch leading into a hairpin left, followed by a full 90-degree right-hander and a smooth left into a long degrading backstretch with a final hard left-hander back onto the front stretch. The track was both fast and technical, allowing for good side-by-side racing with lots of opportunity to overtake other mowchines. Three-wide racing was possible in more than one area of the track. Even the governed engine JP and IMOW classes had their share of lead changes. Saying the track held together would be easy, the fact is thanks to constant care and attention every race the track and the racing got better.
I had a great new experience acting as Matt Miniaker’s “handler” in the JP class for Matt’s first-ever race. Matt’s Dad, Al “ The Lawn Monkey” Minaker was busy with his announcer duties and asked me to assume the role and help show Matt how this gig goes down. Ladies and gentleman I am proud to announce “Monkey Matty” is a trooper and born to the grass! Early in his first heat race another first-time driver used Matt’s ankle to push Matt, while still aboard Mike Paccione’s mower, into the infield. Though Matt suffered a mild sprain, upon entry into the ambulance his first question was of course; “How’s the mower?” He went on to compete in both days of racing, pushing pain and injury aside.
Good BBQ was to be had all weekend, without charge of course, and I finally got me a piece of Jim Mikula, that’s right there was no edge cutting for me I went straight to the heart of the cake and served me up a huge heaping helping of “Papa Mikula” and I must say, Jim’s delicious! Not only did we not pay for Hotels all weekend as Jayson and Jodi Mikula opened their home for several racers, but Sunday morning breakfast at The Swan Inn and Restaurant Jim and Donna Mikula picked up the tab before most of us even knew it was delivered. Honestly I have never had people do so much to make me feel at home, meanwhile constantly thanking me. They went out of their way to make sure everyone enjoyed themselves.
Once again the USLMRA came together in Sparta, Michigan for a cause. With over $12,000 raised by the event for the Huntington’s Disease Society of American you must call it a success!
The weekend wrapped up with some very nice trophies handed out to deserving drivers and an invitation that I believe most of us will take them up on to return next year. When you get your calendars out to plan your racing season next year, be sure to flip first to the third weekend in July and mark it SPARTA!