Racing has a rich tradition in Ellerbe stretching back to the glory days of the DeWitt Racing Team and driver Bennie Parson’s dominance of the NASCAR circuit during the 1960’s.
A tradition that is being carried on by the Ellerbe Lions Club’s lawnmower series, which kicks off another season Saturday.
The lawnmower series pits amateur drivers on modified lawnmowers that reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.
“It started out as just some of us guys throwing around ideas for raising money for new community projects,” said Ellerbe Lion’s Club President Walter Stancill. “We were thinking about go-cart racing, and the lawnmower idea was born.”
With donations of materials and labor from community members, the Ellerbe lawnmower track began to materialize.
What started out as a simple clay track has evolved into something much bigger for this season.
Modern additions -- such as night lighting and stoplights -- give the race track a feeling of authenticity, and greater safety for the drivers.
Track Steward Herbert Dawkins and Race Director Harris Rummage added 10.5 to 11-degree banking on turns during the off-season, as well as a 20-foot runoff area near the infield to help avoid wrecks.
Many of the drivers will also wear helmets and chest protectors this season after wrecks in previous years.
“All in all, it was a donation of at least $39,000 of equipment and labor by various people in the community,” Dawkins’ wife, Annette, explained. “Mostly, people from Ellerbe and Rockingham.”
“Getting this thing going would not have been possible without the community support,” Stancill admits.
Participants in the races include many local racers as well as drivers from as far away as Tennesssee and Georgia.
“It says a lot about the local racers,” Dawkins said. “Dedication, loyalty, the need for speed and the ability to build a better track.”
The track hosts races from March until November. It is fairly commonplace for the Ellerbe races to have more than 500 spectators in attendance at any given race to watch 50 lawnmowers compete in 10 different classes.
“It’s a lot of action and excitement,” Dawkins continued. “The drivers really take it to heart, and they do wreck sometimes, but they always put their heart into it.”
That wasn’t always the case.
There was little fanfare when the lawnmower races began several years ago. Low attendance and lack of participation forced the Ellerbe Lions Club to give admission refunds at some of its early events. Low attendance continued to be a problem in the early lawnmower races.
“Young kids and teenagers really started to take an interest in the races,” Stancill said. ‘I think that is what really helped it grow.”
This year, a children’s class of racers is being added to accommodate the audience.
“There’s not another track like this that’s been built in the U.S.,” Dawkins said. “The drivers come from all over for that reason, and there’s always fireworks out there.”
For more information, visit http://racing.ellerbelionsclubnc.com.
Staff Writer Daniel Starling can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 19 or at email@example.com.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.