Lessons Learned From Lawnmower Racing

Written by Tina Paccione, Director of Development
There is a lesson to be learned in everything that we do, even in racing lawnmowers.  Yes, mowers altered to weed out the competition to determine who has the cutting edge machine. Where a MOWtivated racer participates in US sanctioned races televised on national networks such as MSG, Fox Sports Net and even featured on an episode of “Home Improvement”.  
Since my family is spread out over the East coast, it’s been a dream of mine to see them more often. In the past, we saw them once a year, but it was typically every other year that we visited with at least a few of them and not all at the same time. Little did I know that it would take a machine built for cutting grass, a chore that was assigned to my brother growing up, to bring us together a half a dozen times a year.
My father, who lives in Florida, took up the sport several years ago as a young 60 something-year-old man looking for another hobby. It’s not that he needed one as he spent his free time fishing and camping while still operating his own landscaping business. 
After seeing the sport featured on TV, he joined a local racing chapter and very quickly became known as the “Rocketman” for his incredible fast starts and first place trophies. That’s right, trophies. There is no money, no major prizes; just bragging rights and a plastic trophy.
Soon, my brother from North Carolina joined the team and he was coined; “Rocketman Junior”. That’s when Rocketman Racing was born. The next to join was my husband, who on a visit to Florida 3 years ago was given a chance to ride one of my dad’s machines as a way to stop or lessen the heckling that was coming from his unforgiving son-in-law.

At that, we had another avid racer in the family and the next week he was off to Michigan to qualify for the National Championships held in Mowhio where he was eventually crowned the National Champion…of lawnmower racing (the IMOW class, that is, which stands for International Mower of Weeds). Are you starting to see the innuendos used in the sport?

Since that time, our team has expanded to include myself and a cousin from upstate NY among others. We have 7 racers, 10 machines and we run in all 7 classes of races. We gather on average once, sometimes twice, a month during racing season and our mini family reunions have pulled our family closer. 
While the fun and camaraderie, and yes the laughs that go with it, are centered around a sport that may not rank as serious, this sport and being with my family has made a serious impact on the way I live my life. Not only has this sport given me the chance to spend more time with my family, it has provided an opportunity for me to bond with my dad again and in some ways tighter than when I was growing up. He has taught me many things over the years and I still find myself a student of his wisdom. 
He has shown the entire racing community what it means to be a racer; that it doesn’t matter if we win or lose. It’s how we play the game. How we relate to one another and how we treat each other both on and off the track (or field, or court, or business, etc.). My dad is a winning driver. He takes his mower and his running starts to the machine at the beginning of every race seriously. He prepares his mowers for many hours days before the race and continues to tinker with them right up until race time. The other racers know him for his starts that leave the younger drivers in the dust, but that is not what he will be remembered for by those involved in this sport. He is a person who will give of his time, talents and knowledge to help a fellow racer. I have seen on countless occasions my dad run to the track during a race that he is not in and help get a mower going and get the racer back on the track. He offers his tools, parts and expertise to anyone who needs it. Most of the time, he reaches out to them before they get a chance to find him.  He has won numerous awards for not only his speed on the track but for the character he brings to the track. He is respected by all, a role model and mentor to many and a gentleman.


Another lesson has to do with supporting those who support us. For several years, I entered the gates of each race venue with a car load of family and proudly announced that we were the “pit crew” and proceeded to the pit area without paying the nominal fee charged to spectators. Boy, did I outsmart them, I thought as I kept the few dollars in my wallet for the concession stand or whatever souvenirs the kids wanted from that particular trip.
Then one day I was riding with my dad as he entered the gates to set up for his weekend of racing. He smiled and made small talk all the while he was taking money out of his wallet to pay for every person in his vehicle. As he drove away, I asked him why he paid; wondering if he was getting senile and forgot that as a racer he didn’t have to pay. His answer came with wisdom and reminded me of the same innocence I see in my children; when they do an act of kindness not because they should, but because that’s just what they do. He said that the local chapters put a lot of money into setting up these races and making sure the racers are taken care of. They provide full meals after the first night of racing for the racers and their entire families. Then came the words that will stay with me forever: “They can’t support us if we don’t also support them.” Wow, how prophetic but yet so simple. I will never forget this encounter with my dad but yet I have to stop and remember his words when I revert back to old habits. 
I find myself looking for bargains, deals, the best way to get something for free. In fact, recently I found myself asking for a refund after paying for my three kids to enter the Bounce Castle when I realized that a receipt from the store that I just made a purchase in ensured them free access. That would have been a savings of $6! Luckily, my husband, who is also under the tutelage of my father, reminded me that this was a fundraising effort for a college organization. Immediately I thought of my dad and how his example, however influential as that moment was, took the back seat when my “automatic habits” took over.
Now I am more aware of where to look for bargains and where to spend my money to support a cause. For me, paying more for something when it benefits more than just the seller is the greatest feeling I could have and I know I’ve just made a difference in someone else’s life. 
Sometimes I forget or take for granted the many lessons my dad had given me while living under his roof. What an honor it is to be in his company regularly again after all these years. I continue to learn from watching him in his subtle and humble ways. I am grateful that my children are learning from his example as well and just how influential he is in their lives even though we live hundreds of miles apart. I’ll always remember him as a prime example of giving unconditionally. He is selfless and not only does he give freely of himself, but he never second guesses or hesitates; it comes naturally to him. One day, I hope to grow up to be just like him and pass it down to the next generation of racers.

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Reader Comments (5)

Tina, I read couple of your articles and stories. You are an amazing person and a great writer. Thank you so much for sharing your life with all of us.
by Ivetta on 12/8/2010 12:41:21 PM

How absolutely true and heartfelt.  You just captured the total essence of lawnmower racing as it should be.  I commend and thank you.
by Bud Elmow Elmore on 11/19/2010 12:03:56 PM

Wow, Tina,that was well worth the reading.  A lot of us feel the same way about the mini reunions - we get to see people we would not get to see on a regular time schedule.  Rocketman Racing is some of our favorite racers.  Glad you wrote this.  --Charlie Bowen
by Charlie on 11/15/2010 6:54:57 PM

Thank you Tina for sharing this with us
by Iryna on 11/7/2010 4:52:56 AM

Tina- An absolutely wonderful story. Truly MOWtivational.
Bruce Kaufman "Mr. Mow It All", Founder & President U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association
1544 Shermer Rd, Suite F Northbrook, IL 60062
[email protected]
[email protected]
Office 847.272.2120
by Bruce Kaufman on 11/6/2010 1:03:08 PM

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