With its annual Strut Your Stuff car show and tire burnout on Saturday, Aug. 16, Maranatha Assembly of God Church aims to draw a large crowd. The car show is open to all, the tire burnout contest appeals to the adventurous, and for the last few years, another motorized vehicle has joined the fun with the addition of lawn mower racing.
The race is designed to be fun for racers and their audience, but the participants take it seriously. The race is an official points competition for the Minnesota Lawn Mower Race Association, and many of the contestants are competing for top honors once the MLMRA’s season ends in September.
“It’s a family sport,” said MLMRA President Robert Sparbel, who noted that the association has racers from age 10 to 72. “We’ve got entire families who race.”
That dynamic fits right in with Maranatha’s goals for the event, which lasts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Founded around three decades ago when Pastor Mike Haseltine invited some local kids with fast cars to show them off in the church parking lot, Strut Your Stuff is designed to appeal to car buffs and laymen alike. Families are welcome to check out the festivities.
“We always try to have a variety of different vehicles go in,” said event organizer Bob Collins. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a show car, but it [should] show that you’ve done something to personalize it or made it unique to you.”
One local who keeps bringing back his personalized vehicle is Mark Deiman. He’s made some tweaks to his light teal 1956 Pontiac Chieftan, which will be towing a matching camper from the same year. Deiman has rarely missed a show, which he said is a great outreach tool for Maranatha.
“People show up year after year even though they don’t go to church there,” he said, calling the event a clear message that “you can go to church, be a Christian and have fun, too.”
Fun is the motivating factor behind the racing careers of many in the MLMRA, said Sparbel, who noted that he first tried the sport after a friend gave him a t-shirt that read “I race lawn tractors” as a joke. He eventually became skilled enough to run mowers in the national circuit, earning a sponsorship for a few years from Gold Eagle’s Sta-Bil fuel stabilizer before leaving the nationwide stage to run MLMRA. He described the group as home-grown do-it-yourselfers who craft their own racing mowers in one of seven legal classes.
“You actually start with the base of the lawn tractor,” he said. From there, racers add modifications that affect speed, handling and more, ultimately landing in one of the seven classes based on size, speed and driver capability. Some of the high-end class lawn mowers end up with engines boasting 80 horsepower.
All of the MLMRA races take place on an oval track, usually on a hard surface like dried clay. Each class has a set of heats and a “featured” event; however, no one is disqualified in the heats, so each rider gets to compete in their final race. The typical circuit straightaway is about 180 to 200 feet; Maranatha has the smallest track of any association event, but Sparbel said racers aren’t picky.
“We make it work,” he said.
Admission to the event is $3; kids 12 and under get in free. Registration for both the car show and the mower racing takes place the day of the event (Sparbel asked that would-be racers arrive an hour or two ahead of the event). Registration costs $10 for either event (MLMRA members are free with a $25 annual membership). Sparbel said those who are interested in racing call him ahead of time at 651-235-0317 to learn if their mowers are up to regulation.
For more information about Maranatha, visit www.realchurch.org. For more on the MLMRA, visit www.mownorth.com.