Opinion: Drunken lawnmower racing

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Commentary by Ward Degler

A guy from Franklin, Ind., was arrested last week for drunk driving – while operating his lawnmower. Apparently, he was driving his mower down a county road when he suddenly decided to veer into someone’s yard and start cutting their grass.

The startled homeowner called the cops, who arrested the guy for drunk driving and being a public nuisance. The police report said his eyes were glazed and he failed the breathalyzer test.

And this was the second time he was arrested for drunken lawnmower driving. Last month, cops arrested him for terrorizing shoppers in a Kroger parking lot. They hauled him away and impounded his riding mower. He is in jail awaiting trial for both incidents.

I happen to know a little about drunken mower driving. When I lived in Hastings, Minn., the guys in the neighborhood held lawnmower races on weekends during the summer.

You’ve got to understand, Minnesota winters are long and often brutal. After you’ve run the snow blower for the 100th time there’s not much else to do except soup up the lawnmower. And everybody knows lawnmower souping-up is a highly delicate endeavor that takes a lot of planning. And a lot of beer.

When the first vestiges of spring show up, the neighborhood is wracked with the roar of dozens of stressed-out lawnmower engines as the owners tirelessly fine-tune their machines and run short sorties up and down their driveways. Fine-tuning also takes a lot of beer.

The first race of the season brings out the entire town. The track is a serpentine network of streets running through an industrial park. Start time is usually 1 p.m., which means the drivers have been up, working on their machines since dawn. Such dedication also requires a lot of beer.

By the start of the race every driver, pit crew member and most fans are snot-flying drunk. When the starter fires his gun, most of the mowers are more or less lined up at the starting line, albeit some may be facing the wrong direction and have to be turned around.

The race itself is supposed to be 50 laps but often ends when the last mower running conks out in the third turn. Others have blown their engines, accidentally driven into the shallow creek behind the industrial park, or the drivers have simply passed out somewhere on the track.

By Monday, most of the machines are back in their garages while their drivers work frantically to ready them for next weekend’s race. That takes beer, too.

The guy from Franklin needs to get on his mower and head north. When he gets to Minnesota, he should suddenly feel right at home.

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