PATTON — The sight of competitive driving on a dirt track is something that can be found in many locations nationwide on a summer Saturday night. Stock cars, sprints and open-wheeled modifieds are routinely put to the test by drivers who thrill the crowd in their quest for the checkered flag.
In Patton, races are presented by the local Lions Club every other Saturday on a track at the Patton Saddle Club, but don't expect to find stock cars or sprints. The races involve souped-up riding lawn mowers sanctioned by the Southeast Missouri Lawnmower Racing Association.
"I've got about $500 invested in my lawn mower," said Justin Franks, a racer from Fredericktown. "I've been racing for about a year. I've been able to place, but I haven't come in first yet."
Franks and nearly 25 other competitors from places, including Jackson, Delta and Perryville, raced their lawn mowers at the club on recent Saturday. Some drivers, like Franks, rode atop a lawn mower with a 12.5 horsepower engine, while others were a bit more powerful.
"I've got a 16 horsepower motor," said Eric Hoxworth, who in the early races won a heat in his class. "I've got at least $900 invested in my lawn mower."
Spending money on a lawn mower is a given if a driver wants it to be competitive. To give the local drivers something to aim for, the L and M Racing Team from Clay County, Ark., made an appearance at the club to drive in exhibition races.
"My lawn mower is between 85 to 90 horsepower," said John Loveless, a member of L and M Racing. "It can also reach between 80 to 90 miles per hour."
The racers drove their lawn mowers in an adult class, divided into three speed categories based on performance in time trials, and a youth class. The racers competed not for prize money, but for simple plaques given to first- through fourth-place finishers.
Kenny Hoxworth, an official with the Southeast Missouri Lawn mower Racing Association, said the association is looking for a permanent place to race in Patton.
"This is our first season here," Kenny Hoxworth said, "and we'd like to make the Saddle Club our home. The Patton Lions Club is treating us real good, and we like it that we're giving people something to come out and see."
John Preston, president of the Patton Lions Club, said he likes having the lawn mower races in his hometown.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for the people of Bollinger County to come out on a Saturday night," Preston said. "People love it, and it's a perfect place to bring their kids."
Preston also said he believes lawn mower racing will continue in Patton for the long run.
"I believe this is home for lawn mower racing," he said. "The Lions Club is happy and so is the racing association. The community is excited, too."
The next lawn mower races at the Patton Saddle Club are scheduled for July 20. The racing season is expected to run through Oct. 26.