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Flag Pond’s mower race proves to be a holiday blast

Before a crowd of cheering fans, the racers pull up to the starting line and prepare to put the pedal to the metal in a race for glory. Engines rev, racers eye one another from behind their steering wheels, the signal to start is given and off they go down the track as they push their machines to the limit.
This is just your typical stock car race, right?
Nope.
It is something much more unique and, according to the racers and spectators, much more fun; it’s the Flag Pond Independence Day Celebration Lawn Mower Race.
Hosted by the Flag Pond Ruritan Club at the former Flag Pond School in conjunction with the club’s Fourth of July fireworks and parade, the lawn mower race always draws a crowd, according to one of the event coordinators.
“We had a good crowd,” Ruritan Club member and event coordinator Coy Lee Harris told The Erwin Record. “Everybody I talked to this year enjoyed it … We have the lawn mower race and we have fireworks. We have a parade with decorated lawn mowers, farm tractors, 4-wheelers, stuff like that.”
Harris said the lawn mower race was first held “10 or 12 years ago.”
“We thought it would be something fun to do for the Fourth of July,” Harris said.
According to racer Craig Shelton, they were right.
“It’s an adrenaline rush of fun,” Shelton said. “The Ruritan Club said they were going to have a lawn mower race so we just entered and loved it. I’ve done it pretty much ever since then.”
When the first Flag Pond Lawn Mower Race was held, participants brought the lawn mowers they used to mow their yards at home, Shelton said. In the following years, Gary Briggs figured out how to modify their lawn mowers to make them reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour.
Now the race offers two classes, a stock class and a modified class.
“We started out with lawn mowers you mow your yard with. Now they’ve got some fixed that don’t even have a mowing deck on them,” Harris said. “We have a stock class, which is what you mow your lawn with. Then we have the modified, which is one that has been fixed to race instead of mow your yard with.”
No one entered the stock class this year, as everyone preferred to race in the modified class.
Shelton said some racers spend weeks modifying their machines in preparation for the annual race.
“A Snapper comes from the factory running like six miles an hour and people figured out how to switch the gears in the transmission to make them run 30 miles an hour,” Shelton said. “Thirty miles an hour is really fast on a lawn mower. It doesn’t sound like it, but it is.”
For many years, participants raced around a circular course side by side. For the 2012 running of the race, coordinators decided to change the format as a safety precaution.
“We had a straight course this year and down at the end they would turn around and come back and finish where they started,” Harris described. “We wanted to keep somebody from getting hurt. (Lawn mowers) are not designed to go fast like that.”
Shelton described the format of the 2012 race as similar to “drag racing.”
“This year they ran a time trial down and back the school grounds,” Shelton said. “They were worried about someone getting hurt, so they separated into two lanes and you run down and back.”
Shelton said he was happy to accept the change in the format of the lawn mower race.
“I guess it is a lot safer,” he added. “We don’t have too many safety features on the (lawn mowers).”
The change in format did impact Shelton’s race strategy, though.
“This year the main thing was getting turned around and come back. The little tires on a lawn mower don’t stick good like a race car,” he said. “Get off the line and turn around, that’s the main things. Those are the two strategies.”
While everyone hopes to win the race, Shelton said racers participate for another reason.
“It’s mostly for fun,” he said. “Everyone is competitive, but it’s mostly for good community fun. Everybody has competitiveness built into them, but when you come out and see a lawn mower go really fast, it’s really amazing.”
Even though it is a friendly competition, the race still crowns a winner. When the dust settled on the 2012 race, Megan Edwards Briggs rode away from the competition for her fourth consecutive victory.
“I’m the only girl ever to race and I have won every year,” Briggs said with a laugh. “I hate to lose at anything. Sure, it’s a lawn mower race, but it’s still a race. I have to beat the men.”
“Maybe she’d let us win one of these days,” Shelton jokingly said.
The machine Briggs used to get to victory lane each year was modified by her father-in-law, Gary Briggs.
“He is with the Lord now, but he was always the guy for people who needed lawn mowers and small engines fixed. He built the first fast mower … Everyone asks me why I race – it’s for him. He built that mower for me and I haven’t changed a thing in all these years.
“I want his legacy to go on. I want people to remember he is the reason for the races. If my engine blows up, I’ll stop, but until then I’ll race for Gary.”
Briggs will have the chance to keep her winning streak alive next year. Harris said the Flag Pond Ruritan Club, which also hosts the annual Ramp Festival, plans to host its Independence Day celebration again next year.
“We want to get the community together and have fun,” Harris said.
Seeing the community show its support by attending is what makes the event special, Shelton said.
“I just love to see our little community come together,” he added. “It’s a great spectator sport. It’s a blast.”