AVON PARK - With campers inundating Highlands County in anticipation of the 62nd 12 Hours of Sebring, another track is garnering a lot of attention.
The Avon Park Mowerplex is hosting the first annual Snowbird Nationals in conjunction with the United States Lawn Mower Racing Association, and approximately 100 lawn mower racers from all along the East Coast and central United States have been arriving since Thursday.
"We have drivers coming from everywhere," said North American Society of Grass Racers And Sod Slingers President Wes Pyburn, as he and others worked on the 20 mile track. "Some are arriving from Georgia and we have more coming from Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina, and other states, that are currently on their way."
The three day event started Thursday with a cookout and open practice. Today, after registration and inspections, open practice will be held from 1-2 pm with the heat races starting at 3 pm. Tickets for the race cost $10.
Friday's heat races determined the starting order for the feature races that will begin at 6 p.m. There are four different classifications of mowers, starting from the slowest and more restrictive International Mower of Weeds to the Open Single and Open Twin mowers, which can reach speeds in excess of 70 mph.
Pyburn said that his Red Rocket mower registers about 70 horsepower and can speed along the course at over 60 mph. Pyburn usually wins the races held in Avon Park. Pyburn added that he expects to finish between third and fifth in the races with so many mowers in the top classifications, as many drivers will be controlling mowers with 100 or more horsepower.
The day's events will conclude with karaoke by Dalton Dinner as racers and their teams prepare for the second day of racing on Sunday.
The heat races will begin at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday with the feature events beginning at 1:00 p.m.
Both races will count for points toward the drivers in the local NASGRASS chapter.
Current point leaders for each classification are as follows: IMOW - Frankie Lane with 855; followed by Richie and Buddy Pippin holding second and third, respectively, with 715 and 675 points.
Grand Prix (GP): Pat Sullivan leads the pack with a solid 855 points while Matt Earp holding second with 510. Sean Kennedy is third with 400 points.
Open Single: Sean Kennedy sits on top with 795 points, but Bruce Runyan has him in his sights with 725 points. David Curtis is a distant third with 475.
Grand Prix (GP) Twin: Jeremy Miller maintains first place with 755 points. Close behind him is his father, Sam, who drives the "Lightning McQueen" mower with 635. Richie Pippen is on their heels with 530 points and Craig Geary is still in the points race, currently in fourth, with 450 points.
Wes Pyburn currently holds a solid first place lead in the Open Twin classification with 795 points, but a broken belt in last month's races allowed Justin Cagel to close the gap. Cagel is in second with 500 points.
Racing is not limited to just the men. More women have entered into the fray with Brooke Kennedy competing in both the IMOW and GP classifications. Sharon Curtis competes in the GP, while Becky Kuhfeldt in the Open Single. Both still find themselves in contention for a strong finish.
Avon Park's own Keri Bryant, who started late in the season, has already propelled herself into sixth place in the IMOW classification and is within striking distance to move up a few more spots this weekend.
In the Junior classification, Catherine Baker holds a 70 points lead over Jordan Campbell.
With two races this weekend that count for points at both the national and local level, along with the number of drivers that will be participating, there's a strong possibility for a dramatic shift in the standings.
"We have a great season with huge support from the fans," Pyburn said. "Over the next two days, they will have the opportunity to see some of the best racers throughout the United States and some of the fastest lawn mowers. It is going to be a great weekend."