Grateful Dead of Motorsports: Lawn Mower Racing

Lawn Mowing Race1 photo

Imagine this help wanted ad: Do you enjoy motorsports (wishing they weren’t so dang expensive!) and love to tinker? Do you get into competition – and yet are the kind of person who will readily reach out a hand to help? Do you appreciate green grass, apple pie and spending time with friends and family? And, oh yes, do you have a good sense of humor and enjoy having fun? If so, we need YOU to race a lawn mower.

We at Advance Auto Parts have been hearing more and more about the grassroots sport of lawn mower racing across the country and we know that many of our readers love to DIY. So we talked to a couple of lawn mower racing diehards and are bringing you the results of our conversations.

Modifying a lawn mower into a racing machine

According to Bruce Kaufman (AKA Mr. Mow-It-All), the president of the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association (USLMRA), 90% of racing lawn mowers are crafted in someone’s garage, with that “someone” typically having “mechanical ingenuity.”

If you’re interested in giving this a try and want to race in a USLMRA event, Bruce shares that you’ll find a circus atmosphere with a unique and special subculture focused on camaraderie – thus, the connection with the Grateful Dead.

In preparation, you simply start with a self-propelled rotary or reel-style riding lawn mower that was designed and sold commercially, specifically to mow lawns. However you modify the mower, it must remain suitable for lawn mowing, outside of the exceptions listed in the association’s handbook. Having said that, one requirement for race entry is that cutting blades are completely removed from the mower.

Here are other requirements:

  • Non-stock mowers must be equipped with an automatic throttle closing device.
  • All mowers must be equipped with an engine safety cut-off switch.
  • Mower brakes must be in good condition, operating on at least 2 wheels.
  • Fuel must be pump gas. The only additive allowed is STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer.

Each mower is inspected prior to racing and can be re-inspected at any time. Safety first!

The USLMRA website provides plenty of tips, including this formula:

Small front pulley + large rear pulley = slow!
Large front pulley + small rear pulley = fast!

A tethered kill switch will shut down the engine if you get bucked off, and it needs securely attached to the driver and the mower. The blade deck should remain in place, solidly bolted to hold your weight without swaying. You can install a hand or foot throttle, and most racers replace the front axle with a stronger one. Review the tech section of the site plus the rulebook thoroughly if you decide to give this a go!

Bruce says that there are 11 racing classes and, although none of them permit blades, the resulting racing machines range from “mild to wild.” Typically, modifications are made to carburetors and engines, plus to the chassis. Good brakes are crucial, Bruce says, as is reliable steering. That’s because, as horsepower is added, it also needs controlled on this racing machine that has no suspension. Bruce then mysteriously adds that there are “secret speed tricks that inspectors will never know . . .” Hmmm.

Built for speed

If you’ve never attended a lawn mower race, you might scoff at what you imagine they’d consider “speed.” If so, then you might be shocked to know that even ESPN reported when lawn mowing star Bobby Cleveland broke the speed record by going more than 96 miles per hour! That’s right. Bobby reached an astonishing speed of 96.529 mph on September 25, 2010, beating out the previous record of Don Wales of Britain (who had broken Cleveland’s previous record of 80.792 mph with a speed of 87.833 mph!) and bringing the speed record back to the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Not surprisingly, then, Bobby is a proud member of the USLMRA National Lawn Mower Racing Hall of Fame, founded for “Turf Titans who have turned a weekend chore into a competitive sport.” He has clinched more than 75 first place victories and nine STA-BIL Series National Championships. He built the world’s first “Monster Mower” and also holds the world record for monster mower jumping. He has “always loved to ride motorcycles, race lawn mowers, build hot rods and tinker in the garage. His passion for motors and what makes them work runs as deep as his appetite for Southern BBQ, sweet tea and being on the road.”

Broad appeal of the sport

Although it’s the champions who make the headlines, Bruce says that the sport appeals to a wide swath of people, youngsters as well as grandpas, and every age demographic in between. He says that it’s common to see relatives participate in racing together, adding that the “family that mows together, grows together.” Because this activity is more affordable than the typical motorsport, that makes it even more family friendly. More specifically, costs of participating typically run in the $100s to the $1,000s, according to Bruce, not the tens of thousands.

Racers must belong to the USLMRA as well as to a sanctioned affiliated club. Racers can be as young as eight, although all under the age of 18 need parental permission. “Participants run the gamut of socioeconomic classes and geographical boundaries,” Bruce says, with Aaron Crowl (president of the American Racing Mower Association) adding that he and his family have raced against “people getting started in life to people who have retired after a long and successful career, from people who perform manual labor to business executives, doctors and people with Ph.Ds., and from teachers to school principals.” (When Aaron refers to his family, he means his wife and their twin daughters.)

Both Bruce and Aaron compare the racing environment to that of a family reunion complete with camping, camaraderie and food (and, as Aaron points out, “sometimes a weird but lovable person who reminds you of your Uncle Al”). Both men point out that this atmosphere can exist because no one races for a purse, merely for fun, a trophy and some bragging rights. Rivals may challenge you to the nth degree – and yet, when your engine falters, they’ll give you a wrench, a spare part, or even an entire engine.

“If someone came to a race who was TOO competitive,” Bruce muses, “I’d probably say, ‘Dude, you need to do something else.’ Motivation to win is good but, if you’re too serious about winning, you’d tend not to fit in.” To honor people who perform selfless acts in helping others, the racing organization gives out the Spirit and Spark Award.

Another requirement for participation, although an unofficial one, seems to be a love of bad puns. When you attend, you’ll meet people and vehicles with nicknames like Geronimow, Sodzilla and Prograsstinator, with the president of USMLRA being affectionately known as the grasshole.

Despite the sense of silliness that graces the sport, races are nevertheless judged fairly and professionally, with a computer-based scoring system that monitors race times to 1/1,000 of a second, with results posted quickly online, along with season-to-date rankings.

Past to present – to predictions

When asked about the evolution of the sport, Bruce gives a shout-out to STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer, which he says has nurtured this sport along from its inception (okay, so he actually said they’ve “watered the grass of this sport from the start”). He also shares how he’s seen the technology of racing lawn mowers evolve thanks to the creativity of participants and how the potential of speed has increased with the technological improvements.

Meanwhile, Aaron notes how, early on, racers needed to be especially creative because nobody was making parts specifically for racing mowers. As the sport has grown, though, niche high performance parts have become available, opening the sport to people who couldn’t effectively adapt parts intended for another purpose for their racing machine.Lawn Mowing Race 2 photo

As for the future, Aaron sees super modified mowers becoming increasingly common, those that are lower and wider than previous models, but still recognizable as mowers. “I have mixed emotions about that change, actually,” he admits, “being old school. But you have to be realistic about the future.”

Bruce doesn’t see mowers becoming much faster, believing that current models are at the peak of what can safely be allowed – and both men envision and hope for further expansion of local clubs and community events centering on the quirky yet exciting motorsport of lawn mower racing.

Even if you don’t plan to race, you’ll probably still mow this spring and summer. Find the lawn and garden parts you need online at Advance Auto Parts.

Pro Am Kart Race Benefits Children

Pro Am kart race  photoPatrick Long’s Pro Am Kart Race to Benefit All Children’s Hospital. It’s a long name, for sure, but the cause is simple: to generate donations and support for All Children’s Hospital John Hopkins Medicine while creating fantastic memories for everyone involved. This hospital is a “leading center for pediatric treatment, education, and research . . . specializes in providing care for newborns through teen(s) and is the only specialty licensed children’s hospital on Florida’s west coast.”

Pro Am kart race 3 photoBecause this benefit is a Pro-Am race, racing junkies go head-to-head with their motorsports heroes who, less than 24 hours earlier, competed in the 12 Hours of Sebring. For many novice racers in 2015, the entry fee was worth its weight in gold to share a track and make friends with drivers that most fans only meet on television.

Celebrity drivers

The race was held on March 22nd. Well known participants include Porsche factory driver, ALMS champion and Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans winner, Patrick Long; NASCAR Truck Rookie of the Year, ALMS & Grand-Am driver, and Daytona speed record holder, Colin Braun; Champ car, ALMS, and Grand-Am driver, Jan Heylen; and Delta wing driver, Katherine Legge, among other professional drivers.

Event coverage

karting 6 pictureNow, don’t be fooled! While the mood was lighthearted and cheerful, competition was fierce. The classic Le Mans style start kicked off the festivities with a sense of spirited rivalry as, for more than 1.5 hours, teams rotated through their drivers and karts.Pro Am kart race 7 photo

This afternoon event raised a whopping $65,000 for All Children’s Hospital, through a combination of entry fees, buying laps back in an attempt to win, a silent auction, a regular auction – and generous donations.

Auction items included race suits and artwork, with one team going above and beyond, donating the trophy they’d won the day before at Sebring. The gentleman who made the highest bid graciously returned the trophy to the winning driver and team, wanting simply to show his appreciation for their selfless donation while also contributing to the cause.

Pro Am kart race 1 photoThat gesture will be hard to beat – and yet, the karting fans who participate in the All Children’s Hospital benefit race are just the ones to raise up the generosity ante in 2016. So, stay tuned!

 

 

 

12 Hours of Sebring: Corvette finishes first

Sebring corvette

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Check out our exclusive coverage and photos from the recent 12 Hours of Sebring in 2015.

Let’s face it. The Chevy brand couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.

Chevy took the 12 Hours of Sebring by storm at the 63rd annual racing event held on Saturday, March 21 in Sebring, Florida. Corvette Racing dominated, securing the podium for the Daytona Prototype field and sneaking in a solid first place in GTLM.

Sebring 17 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Besides pleasing ‘vette fans, the combination of a Chevy bowtie and a stellar weekend will undoubtedly make corporate happy. After all, Corvette’s racing heritage boosts sales.

Corvette’s win was a Porsche loss

In GTLM, the #3 Corvette took first place partially because of equipment failures on the leading Porsche RSR during pit stops near the end of the race. Staying at the front through 12 hours with blazing hot track temps and numerous cautions is no easy feat – and, in this case at least, the Porsche wasn’t up to the challenge.

Sebring 4 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

The reality is that there is no shortage of driver challenges in a race like this that can knock a great team out of the running. The winning formula typically consists of effectively timing pit shops, executing flawless driver changes, staying out of traffic and avoiding costly mistakes caused by fatigue.

Sebring 9 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

In 2015, on the Sebring race track that once served as Hendricks Army Airfield, it was Corvette Racing that took home the trophy and bragging rights. 2016? It’s anyone’s guess.

 

 

More photos from Sebring 2015:

Sebring 13 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Sebring 6 photo

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Sebring 11 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Sebring 14 photo

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Sebring 8 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

Sebring 1 picture

Photo credit: Mike Raffia

 

 

Pittsburgh Dodge Challenger SRT Runs 10s in its First Time Out — Unmodified!

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat pictureAccording to Torque News:

This past weekend, 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat owner Ricci Cavallaro took his stock Mopar muscle car to Pittsburgh Raceway Park for the first time and with nothing more than Nitto NT05 tires, his first run down the track was an incredible 10.97 at 129 miles per hour. Then, he followed it up with two more runs in the 10 second range.

Long-time Mopar fan Cavallaro—who is not a professional driver—took his new supercharged muscle car to PRP, taking advantage of the good weather and a well-prepped track, and it paid off better than anyone could’ve predicted.

That’s insane, especially for a mostly unmodified vehicle!

Check out the full story on this spectacular SRT at Torque News.

Watch Ricci’s first incredible 1/4 mile pass here:

Top Rally Racing Cars You Can Drive Every Day

Rally car

Source/By Hyundai Motorsport/Wikimedia Commons

We’re all all about some American muscle cars. But rally cars are one overseas product that can definitely get our blood pumping. We’re drawn to the World Rally Championship (WRC), which started as a mainly European thing but has since risen to prominence almost everywhere except the U.S. For whatever reason, it’s never really been an American thing to do, so the only way most of us can experience the thrill of a rally car is by driving one of the few rally-derived models available in U.S. dealerships.

What is a rally car?

First, for the uninitiated, a rally is run not on a circular track like other races but over private or closed public roads, from Point A to Point B. Fastest overall time wins. Rally cars need to be fast, versatile, and able to handle whatever the road throws at them–gravel, snow, mountain terrain, tarmac, or dirt. Check out this WRC video for a look at what these insane cars and their drivers can do. Then read on for three rally cars we’d like to have in the garage.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution photo
Popularly known as the “Evo,” this Mitsubishi rally car is a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive compact sedan. It’s unfortunately also on its last legs with an uncertain future. Mitsubishi has officially announced that there will be no Evo after 2015, though a lot of diehard fans refuse to believe that the company would just kill off its most iconic nameplate. Whatever happens, the current Evo will go down in history as one of the most capable four-door cars ever built, and not only because of its deep roots in rally-racing history. The boosted 291-horsepower engine under the hood is just the beginning; this Mitsu also comes with a telepathic all-wheel-drive system that shifts all that power side-to-side during hard cornering, effectively eliminating understeer. Additionally, its dual-clutch automated manual transmission is one of the best, ripping off instantaneous upshifts and flawless rev-matched downshifts that no human could ever match. Bottom line? Mitsubishi nailed everything with this car, and you’ll feel like a WRC champion every time you drive it. It’ll be a shame if they let the transcendent Evo go out with a whimper.

Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX STI photo
The top-of-the-line WRX is known as the STI, and it’s the closest you can get to Subaru’s WRC rally cars. It’s also all-new for 2015. As ever, the six-speed manual gearbox–no automated manual here–is a work of art, with short, precise throws and perfectly placed pedals for heel-toe downshifts. The steering feels heavier than before, in a good way, and it’s razor-sharp, with none of the on-center slop you expect in an all-wheel-drive car.

Another thing Subaru has improved is the STI’s body control: the previous generation heeled over in corners like a sailboat, but the new model stays nice and flat, as a performance car should. Though we’d probably mod the engine, because it basically hasn’t changed in 10 years. Sure, 305 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.5-liter four is nothing to sneeze at, but we expect progress after all that time.

Ford Fiesta ST

2015 Ford Fiesta ST photo
The subcompact Fiesta is Ford’s rally car. It comes only with front-wheel drive, so you might not make the rally-car connection right away. But there’s a rich history of Fiesta rally cars dating back at least to the 1979 Monte Carlo Rally, when a couple extensively modified Fiestas braved the icy conditions and achieved respectable results. Since then, numerous Ford rally cars have worn the Fiesta badge, most recently the Fiesta R5 with its all-wheel-drive layout and turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder motor. Swap out the AWD system for front-wheel drive, add a few creature comforts and voila. You’ve got the showroom-ready Ford Fiesta ST.

Rated at 197 horsepower, the flyweight Fiesta ST has plenty of punch. It’s also an ace in tight corners thanks to a brake-based electronic limited slip differential. You can even get a pair of Recaro sport seats that are more or less full-on racing seats in disguise. Throw in the MyFord Touch infotainment system and you’ve got a fully equipped daily driver that just so happens to be a terror on the racetrack, too. For the price (the 2015 model starts at just over $22,000) the Fiesta ST might be the ultimate road-going rally car, absent AWD system notwithstanding.

What’s Your Practical Rally Car?

Tell me about your daily-driver rally ride in the comments, won’t you? As long as it’s got a sporting chassis and some kind of racing heritage, it’s fair game in my book.

Editor’s note: Rally racing or not, treat your ride right with parts and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.

Keep Your Racing Edge – Even During Parenthood

Mustang and DadI got two grown kids of my own, and thankfully they’re out of the house. (You can’t count on that these days.) Now that we’re empty-nesters, I can drive whatever I want, and believe me, I do. But back when the kids were around, I had to make some compromises. Being a car guy through and through, it wasn’t the easiest adjustment to make.

I made it, though, and today I want to tell you that story. In a nutshell, what I realized was that you can make family vehicles fun if you try — and you don’t have to get rid of your pride and joy in the garage, either. Here are my tips for keeping that racing edge, even with the young ‘uns around.

  1. Choose Your Family Car Wisely

When it’s time to get a bigger car for family duty, the first thing you gotta do is make sure it’s fun to drive. Trust me, if you end up with some cheesy crossover SUV that hates fun, you’re gonna be mad at the world every time you start it up. So shop around, do your due diligence, and get a family rig that puts a smile on your face. If I were buying right now, my first choice would be the Dodge Durango R/T with its big 5.7-liter V8 and engaging rear-wheel-drive handling. You could go smaller with a Mazda CX-5 or Ford Escape crossovers, both of which have a real sporty feel, or you could even go bigger with the Mazda CX-9. But skip the boring stuff, okay? And for godsakes, don’t get a minivan.

  1. Accessorize

Advance Auto Parts has a whole bunch of accessories for any kind of ride, and that includes family-mobiles. Let me give you a few examples of how you can spice things up. A great place to start is the exhaust — throw a MagnaFlow performance muffler on there and check out the sweet rumble you get when you put your foot down. Any car guy will tell you that a K&N performance air filter gives you a little shot in the arm as far as both horsepower and fuel economy are concerned. Tell you what, just check out AAP’s whole collection of performance parts and see what fits your budget. Remember, the way the car comes from the dealership is just the beginning; you can customize it any way you please and maximize the fun factor, even with family-oriented rides.

  1. Don’t Sell Your Sports Car

Here’s my last bit of advice: if you’ve got an automotive baby in the garage, don’t sell it unless you absolutely need the cash. Because here’s the thing — if your kids grow up around a great sports car or muscle car, that’s how they’re gonna follow in your footsteps and be car enthusiasts themselves. Take your kids out for rides, and show ’em how to install that air filter or exhaust. As a parent, you get to shape your kids’ interests from the earliest days, and if you ask me, that’s right when they should start spending some quality time with you in the garage.

Your Thoughts

Have you gone down this road as a car enthusiast and a parent? Are you about to start? Tell me some other ways that you think parents can keep their racing edge.

 

Editor’s note: Dad, if you’ve still got racing in your blood, hit up Advance Auto Parts for great deals on racing accessories and more. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Wheels and Tire Stretching

 

close up view of a vehicle's stretched tire

Source/Jonathan Leung/Flickr

Few aftermarket mods get as much love or as much flak as stretched tires. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons.

What is tire stretching?

First, if you’re not familiar with tire stretching, it’s essentially installing a tire on a wheel size that’s larger than what’s specified for the tire, causing the tire to have to stretch to fit the wheels. A lot of online forums give credit to the VW crowd for starting the trend.

The cons of stretching tires

Here are some considerations that fall on the “minus” side of the equation. Tire stretching probably isn’t good for your tires’ longevity. Stretching places undue stress on the tire sidewall and bead and can cause premature and irregular tire tread wear, particularly if you have an aggressive camber setup. Plus, the tire companies don’t like it.

“We follow the RMA (Rubber Manufacturers Association) guideline, beginning on page 42, under Tire Rim/Wheel Selection,” explains Jim Davis, PR Manager, North America, for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. “If it doesn’t fit in the rim width range that is published in the tire data books, then we don’t approve.”

The pros of stretching tires

Now the pluses. Stretched tires look cool and draw added attention to the wheels.

Performance vs. appearance

Wheels are undoubtedly an important part of the appearance equation, but also play an important role in performance, specifically when it comes to weight. Here are some thoughts on wheels from Kevin Wells, Technical Manager for FORMULA DRIFT.

“Wheel weights matter to our drivers,” Wells explains. “Less rotating weight is preferred, especially in drifting. The wheel speed changes very rapidly–100 mph to 0 mph (ebrake) to 100 mph. Excessive rotational weight places additional stress on the drivetrain and the slower this reaction takes place, not to mention suspension setups from excessive wheel weight.

“Other considerations when it comes to wheels are sizing, fitment, and sponsors,” he adds. “You will see drivers use spacers, front and rear, to get available sizes with the incorrect offset to suit their needs. And as for sponsors, free wheels are good wheels unless you can afford to buy something better!”

So what’s it going to be–looks, performance, or both? Leave us a comment and tell us about your opinion on and experience with stretched tires.

Drifting Through San Francisco

San Francisco closed down several streets to shoot Gymkhana FIVE: Ultimate Urban Playground – San Francisco, a video from DC Shoes and Ken Block. It’s the ultimate display of drifting cars engaged in a zero-to-60-in-1.8-seconds performance. Cameras follow Block in his 650-horsepower Ford Fiesta HFHV through a seemingly, never-ending off-ramp. Block launches across the Golden Gate Bridge, pirouetting around two moving trolley cars, and uses Potrero Hill as a personal landing strip.

The Fiesta with Ken Block at the helm made for one killer, high-performance event that brought new meaning to the art of drifting. Witnessing the abuse the car suspension withstands may get you thinking about your own car shocks. Automotive experts recommend replacing car shocks every 50,000 miles, but according to an article in Modern Tire Dealer, 86 percent of vehicles arriving at junkyards still have their original shocks and struts. That’s crazy, especially when you consider how car shocks impact braking and cornering ability, as well as tire wear. A study by Monroe found that even if one of four car shocks is degraded by 50 percent, stopping time can increase by 4.3 percent and stopping distance by 5.7 percent. That’s major.

If you want to see some crazy moves, watch Ken Block’s Gymkahna spectacular.  However, if you want the scoop on how he drives it and other background on Ken,driving and motorsports, watch this Shakedown interview with Ken and Leo Parente. And for help with choosing the right shocks for your vehicle, talk to an Advance Auto Parts team member.