MOWIN' 'EM DOWN: A Longview man proves a cut above the competition as he races his 'toys' to victory
Feb. 12, 2011 at 7 p.m.
Richard Lively could mow a bazillion yards an hour, if he could just handle the turns.
It would also help if his mowers had blades, of course, but those are removed to protect the integrity of lawn mowers converted into 70 mph racers and monster truck cousins.
"There they are - my toys," Lively, a grandfather and supervisor at Trinity Industries, said as he stepped toward the four high-octane toys he'll showcase for three days beginning Friday at the Dallas AutoRama.
Parked on the dead-end lip of a road outside his wood-fenced backyard, the two racers looked unremarkable.
The monster mowers, though, are very tall - saddles mounted atop the vehicle are high enough to show distant fields to mow and lesser mowers to crush.
"I actually run over little push mowers," Lively said, explaining he mounts his monster mowers in between heats at the 10 or so races he joins each year.
He'll only be showing his big-boy toys in Big D.
The races themselves are his passion. A former go-cart competitor, Lively drifted into the lawnmower lane about 10 years ago.
Also a pit crew member at monster truck rallies, he saw two passions crash into one sport.
"We race throughout the year and do the car show, the AutoRama," he said. "It's the biggest show in Dallas."
Lively, 49, is a member of the Lone Star Mower Racing Association, a roughly 30-member posse where his nickname is "Ricky Bobby," after Will Ferrell's win-obsessed character in the 2006 comedy "Talladega Nights."
"We call it the poor man's NASCAR," Lively said of the sport he steered toward a state championship in 2009, his sixth. "In 2010, I took a break."
Racing mowers is not for the sensitive. At speeds topping out at 70 to 80 mph, and averages of 50 mph, this isn't your grandfather's riding lawnmower.
"It's like riding a four-wheeler with no suspension," he said.
"You feel every bump, jump and bang. After about 20 laps, you feel ready to fall off."
Either surprisingly, or testament to Lively's licks, the Longview racer never has suffered a bad spill.
"I've had a few, I was just a little bruised up and ego-hurt," he said. "I've walked away from every one of them."
He credits those outcomes to the helmet, neck brace and chest protector mandatory in the sport.
"We have one of the safest, accident-free rates in the United States as a sport," he said. "You don't just dig an old mower out of your backyard and throw some stickers on it and race."
You do need sponsors, though, and in Lively's case, that's the Longview outlet of national machine and tool supplier, Fastenal.
Lively's wife, Melanie, said her husband is built for the demanding sport.
"Anything he touches, he gets it done and has fun with it," she said as her husband drove the 13-horsepower racer that mowed them down in 2009 up and down their Greggton neighborhood street.
"He's really particular about his stuff. Yet, he's laid back. He just does it to have fun. He doesn't want to get 'out there' and always be first."
He does have a unique approach, though - literally.
Lawnmower races begin with a Le Mans start in which the competitors first elbow past each other to reach their cars which they start after leaping behind the wheel. Most lawn racers use a key, but Lively likes the old-fashioned pull-crank.
"I am the only one in any of the races that is pull-crank," he said. "And I can beat them off the line. And I am gone, gone, gone."