Jim Wooldridge, of Eagle Point participates in a lawn mower race during the Harvest Fair at the Jackson County Fair Grounds Saturday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

At a fast clip

Hands lashed hard to the steering wheel of his riding lawn mower, Lee Wade hit the dirt track Saturday as his machine's engine coughed furiously. He rounded the first two corners and came cruising down the second straightaway, where the digits on a radar speed gun pointed at him crept upward: 13, 15, 16, 17 miles per hour.

Wade and 13 other lawn-mower racers took to the track for time trials and races Saturday at the Jackson County Harvest Fair. Open races continue today at 1 p.m., with open viewing for fair attendees.

It's a motor sport that's fun to get into, racers said. It's also inexpensive, making it easier to get started.

"You can buy a lawn mower at a yard sale for $100, put another $100 into it, and you got yourself a nice little racer," said race official Ben Brown.

Two different groups were part of the fun: the Southern Oregon Lawn-mower Racing Association and Holland Grass Racing out of Dillard.

So how does one go from grass cutter to racing machine? The key is removing a part from the motor called a "governor," which keeps most riding lawn mowers from exceeding 10 to 12 miles per hour.

Remove the governor, take the blades off and do some gear work, and the mower is race-worthy.

"You're driving something that's designed to do 12 miles per hour maximum and you're doing up to 30 miles per hour," Wade said.

The hobby has sticking power, Wade said. He's been doing it for 18 years.

Where other motor sports can cost thousands of dollars to get started, this is a budget-friendly endeavor.

But like any motor sport, risks are involved. Cottage Grove racer Jim Elder has been racing for more than two years and has experienced a few crashes, enough to make him careful during race time.

"Most of us have to work on Monday, so you can't get hurt out here on Saturday," Elder said. "I'm going as fast as I want to."

The machines also require constant maintenance. Motors burn out. Bolts loosen. Parts wear out. But tune-ups are part of the fun, racers said.

The Harvest Fair continues today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and for people who aren't energized by lawn mowers, plenty of other options are available.

On Saturday, for instance, 3-year-old Lexi Thorpe munched on a soft pretzel as she explained how much she likes petting the animals. Twins Alex and Rikki Baldwin, 5, recommended watching the horse pulls. Oh, and the ice cream.

Today's event will be the finish line for the inaugural running of the Rogue Half Marathon. Racers, who start their 13.1-mile jaunt from Talent's Lynn Newbry Park at 8:10 a.m., will finish at the fairgrounds.

Other attractions during the day include draft horse pulls, pumpkin launching, a grape stomp and pie-eating and barbecue contests, along with livestock exhibits, crafts vendors, and photo and home economics exhibits.

Cost is $7 for adults, $3 for ages 6 to 12 and free for those 5 and younger.

A complete schedule is available online at

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