ELLERBE — Riding lawnmowers will dart around the dirt track once more, spinning tires, slinging clay and drawing crowds to Richmond County.
Five weeks after a dispute stalled lawnmower racing at the Ellerbe Lions Club’s lawnmower track, organizers are reopening the facility and planning a seven-race schedule through year’s end. The track will be open from 3-7 p.m. Saturday for a “test-and-tune, meet-and-greet” afternoon of practice laps.
“We look forward to getting the gates open again,” said Joey Bostick, Ellerbe Lions Club president. “I think the community really wanted it back. Richmond County needs something like this, and I hope we can supply it for them.”
Veteran lawnmower racer Rex Crouch Jr. will manage track operations and Wayne Taylor II will officiate the races. The duo replaces Kermit Perkins, who resigned his post as race manager June 14 in what he said was a disagreement with the Lions Club over concession sales.
“It’s too nice a facility to go to waste,” Crouch said. “Too many people were interested in the racing, the sport of it.”
Races are scheduled to begin Aug. 9 and continue every two weeks until the season ends in November. Crouch said races will be held Aug. 9, Aug. 23, Sept. 6, Sept. 20, Oct. 4, Oct. 18 and Nov. 1.
Gates will open at 2 p.m. each race day, with registration and practice running until 5 and a drivers’ meeting at 5:30, Crouch said. Drivers will receive the green flag at 6 p.m.
Crouch said he plans to help with logistics and paperwork at the track, but will turn race management over to Taylor so that he can continue driving in the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association-sanctioned events.
“I don’t want to run the track; I want to race,” Crouch said, “but I’m going to help get it back on its feet and I’ll get back to racing. That way, there will be no conflict of interest. Wayne will run the show and I’ll be racing.”
Organizers announced the races’ return in a Sunday evening post on the “Ellerbe Lions Club Lawn Mower Racing” Facebook page.
Taylor, 44, operated a lawnmower racing track in Whiteville under the name Mow Down Motorsports for about five years. A Richmond County native, Taylor now lives in Ocean Isle Beach, where he is a church youth leader and Boy Scout leader.
Changes to the track design are planned, he said, including modifications to the straightaway and one of the turns to improve safety. The narrow turn should be widened in advance of Saturday’s practice.
“I want to try to bring back some good, white-knuckle racing, but the main priority is to be safe,” Taylor said. “The track is being changed around a little bit to make it safer.”
Taylor said the track will have an active insurance policy before the Saturday event and that this year’s races will be USLMRA-sanctioned. The governing body bills itself as the oldest and largest organizer of lawnmower racing, an amateur motorsport that started more than 30 years ago and features drivers who compete for trophies and bragging rights rather than prize money.
“I was born and raised in Richmond County,” Taylor said. “It’s still my home. I just kind of fell in love with the racing and I hate to see it go downhill or go completely away when there’s not much else for families to do.”
Taylor envisions a full slate of races with grandstands full of cheering children, parents and grandparents.
“I want it to grow for the spectators and the racers,” he said. “I want to have a family-oriented race.”
After the current season concludes, Crouch and Taylor said they’ll brainstorm ways to amp up the excitement at the Ellerbe Lions Club’s lawnmower track. The facility hosted a USLMRA national race in May, the same weekend as a cornhole tournament fundraiser held at the track for Crouch’s daughter, Taylor, who is battling juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
“We hope to have another national race next year,” Crouch said. “We’ve already got some interest from some other tracks who want to come up and run with us. We hope to have a lot more races next year.”
Perkins, who had been working under contract with the Lions Club to manage race operations at the track, canceled the June 14 race the afternoon it was set to begin. He told the Daily Journal that the Lions’ refusal to allow a second vendor to sell concessions led to his walkout.
Both the Lions Club and Perkins said the track’s regular vendor is a Lions Club member. Perkins claimed it constituted a conflict of interest when additional vendors weren’t allowed the same access, but the Lions said Perkins took it upon himself to invite a vendor who had not sought approval from the club.
Lions Club officers said Perkins’ duties were limited to running the races and that the club remained in charge of concession sales. Crouch said that arrangement is changing as he and Taylor take the reins.
“I’m kind of in charge of the whole show,” Crouch said. “The vendors will be very well-organized, and it will be fair and done right.”
Bostick, the club president, previously said that Lions officers would meet with Perkins and try to negotiate an agreement so that lawnmower races could resume under his leadership. Bostick said Monday that those negotiations were not successful.
“Kermit’s done a good job,” Crouch said, “he just had some bad luck with the Lions Club. I think I can repair the damage that’s been done and keep it going strong.”
The Ellerbe Lions Club uses proceeds from the races — which include admission fees and a flat fee that vendors pay in order to sell food at the track — to purchase eyeglasses for visually impaired Richmond County residents, award two $1,000 Lions Club scholarships and make donations to libraries and local schools.
Crouch said spectators who went to the track on June 14 and were greeted by closed gates should consider giving the venue another chance.
“If they try us again, I think they are going to be well-pleased with the way things are going to go,” he said. “Come back out and try us again. It’s going to be a lot better — new and improved, I hope.”
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670.