Berlin--- Public school teachers can't help but feel discouraged when they continue to see their budgets whacked. But an innovative high school teacher in Thomasville found a way to fund some of his classroom needs by going to certain trash piles.
It sounds odd to hear that lawn mower racing has become a sport, but it has with people throughout America and the world enjoying the thrill of low cost competition.
At an old baseball diamond in Berlin, about eight miles south of Moultrie on highway 133, about a dozen lawn mowers with their blades removed go around and around it what was a baseline.
"Ready, set, mow," shouts the race's flagman, as drivers run across the track and start their lawn mowers, in hopes of getting off to a fast start and taking the lead instantly.
What is it about us that we like to know who has the fastest of anything, even the fastest lawn mower? People nationwide have starting catching on to the new racing form, a serious sport with its own sanctioning organization, The US Lawn Mower Racing Association, own circuit, own points competition for drivers.
"Having fun. I've always enjoyed motor sports and this is a way to get into motor sports and really enjoy it," says Russell Tinsley, a 29 year veteran high school teacher dressed in a racing suit, helmet, neck support and chest protector after competing in his first race of the day.
He came in third in that race, riding a lawn mower a family had discarded, but got new life thanks to teenagers. Students in Thomasville High School's Metals Technology class often get their lawnmowers literally out of the trash and turn them into racing treasurers. Twenty trophies sit on a table in Tinsley's office as a testament to their success, but they haven't won any prize money. Lawn mower racing doesn't award money, only trophies.
In the classroom/shop, two students listen intensely to Tinsley explain how to modify a mower's driveshaft. Soon, the students use wrenches to remove the housing that reveals several greasy gears. "Take this gear here and put it inside that one," says Tinsley, his hands covered with latex gloves and covered in grease.
Young hands resurrect mowers that were thrown away. "Completely rebuilt it. Got it into racing condition," says Tinsley pointing to a gold painted mower with a bulldog's face painted on the top. The bulldog is the high school mascot.
"Not trying to make racers out of them (students). Trying to teach them a skill for a better future," says Tinsley as he gets another mower ready to race. The teacher believes the skills used to make lawn mowers into racing machines benefit his high school students for a lifetime. "Why? See, they can get a good paying job with benefits, see them succeed in life," says Tinsley.
A TV program about racing lawn mowers sparked Russell's interest in using them as teaching aids. "It's a good teaching project from the ground up. There's not tax money in this," says Tinsley, as he puts on his racing gloves and helmet.
But it takes plenty of time after school and on racing weekends. "I got to go race," says Tinsley, as he hops on a lawn mower and heads to the track. You would naturally think some of the teenagers would want to become drivers, but not this year.
"They like to work on them, but it takes nerve to drive," leaving Tinsley as their designated race driver. "I did a little dirt track racing," says Tinsley. "When someone is ahead of me I'm trying to find a way to go around them. When I'm in the lead, I trying to figure out how to stay there."
Experience gained decades ago comes in rather handy these days. A lot of drivers got ahead of Russell during his two racing events. When the race ended, he placed fourth overall, enough to qualify for the national lawn mower racing championship coming up on Labor Day weekend. "We did it again. Had more fun," said Tinsley.
And, students have a great teacher who shows them how to stay on the right track in life.
Organized lawn mower racing started in England in 1973, with the US Lawn Mower Racing Association forming in 1992 in Illinois. The sport continues to attract racing enthusiasts worldwide. The association has a web site: www.letsmow.com.