OUTDOORS: Deere Racing

Lawnmower Derby offers chance at a new fun tradition
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Enterprise photoS by Neil Patrick Healy

Jeff Graybeal races down the track during the first annual FFA Lawnmower Derby Thursday, at the Park County Fairgrounds, in Livingston.

Emmett Gilbert races down the track during the Lawnmower Derby.

Zane Lannen, back right, and Emmett Gilbert, back right, line up at the starting line while people are sitting on the front of their mowers during the first annual FFA Lawnmower Derby.

Zane Lannen, right, swerves his lawnmower out of the way as a fan throws a hay bale into his path during the first annual FFA Lawnmower Derby Thursday, at the Park County Fairgrounds, in Livingston.

Racers rolled to the starting line Thursday to kick off one of the more unusual events of the Park County Fair — lawnmower racing.

Four locals tricked out their lawnmowers and lined up in the first annual FFA Lawnmower Derby. A crowd of around 50 people sat in the shade of the stands, anticipating a neck-and-neck race between men and their revamped grass cutters. As soon as the race started, the result was never in doubt, with Livingston local Jeff Graybeal leaving the other competitors in his literal dust.

Graybeal dug out a 1979 Wheel Horse from his backyard and, according to his estimations, put in over 300 hours of work on it to make it race ready.

“Almost all the parts are off the original mower,” he said.

While Graybeal was rounding the track in his mower that more resembled a gokart, the other three racers — Zane Lannen, Nick Jerke and Emmett Gilbert — decided instead of trying to win, they would just try to make each other lose. What started as a three-way tie of John Deeres turned into a slow motion version of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The three riders swerved into and in front of each other, grabbing the hay bales marking the track walls and throwing them in each other’s paths.

After Graybeal lapped the rest of the field multiple times and the dust settled from him crossing the finish line, the other three racers trickled in. To make up for the first race’s lack of parity, Lannen, Jerke and Gilbert went around three laps backwards and one lap with fans sitting on the front. In between, Graybeal was timed as he bolted around the track.

There was no prize or reward money, but Thursday may have seen the birth of a new tradition.

“It’s a great event,” Graybeal said. “I think the community needs more events like this to get people out of their houses and out where they can meet their neighbors and find out their neighbors are pretty decent people if you get out and talk to them. I will be here again next year if it goes on for sure, and I would like to see more of this.”