Grove City Record

Franklin County Fair

Lawn mowers added to demolition derby

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Demolition derbies are a tradition at the Franklin County Fair, but this year, the fair is showcasing a first-of-its-kind, last-driver-standing competition.

John Deere and International Harvester machines will run in the same show as those mammoth Buicks and Fords.

A lawn mower class will be included in this year's demolition derby beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 19, at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Hilliard.

The demolition derby has traditionally been the last event on the final day of the eight-day fair and also one its largest draws, usually attracting drivers and fans from as far as 75 miles away.

This year's lawn mower derby is believed to be the first ever in Franklin County, said Tim Clark, a promoter for London-based Smash-It Demolition Derbies.

Clark said the company began staging lawn mower competitions seven years ago and this year has about 35 shows scheduled, most at county fairs in Ohio.

"Some of our younger (auto) drivers had the idea to do it and it grew from there," Clark said.

There was a learning curve for the event, he said, and rules are different in the lawn mower class than for the automobiles.

One primary difference is that the lawn mowers have no batteries.

The lawn mowers are jump-started but cannot be restarted once power is lost during the event.

"If it dies, you're out," Clark said.

In the automotive class, drivers are allowed a limited time in which to restart a stalled car before being disqualified.

"When we first had these, we let them do restarts. But they would last two-and-a-half hours because the mowers were running that long," Clark said.

The lawn mower engines have a 15-horsepower limit. The deck and blades must be removed from the chassis. Front and rear bumpers are mounted on the mower and a cage is built to protect the driver's feet and legs.

All mowers must be belt-driven as opposed to having a drive shaft.

Besides engine failure, drivers are disqualified for not keeping all four tires on the ground, Clark said.

"They're kind of easy to flip," he said.

Clark said some shows draw upwards of 40 drivers, such as a show in Fayette County earlier this year.

Among those set to compete at the Franklin County Fair is 13-year-old Truitt Thomas of Urbana.

Thomas said he was hooked after seeing his first show two years ago at the Champaign County Fair.

He entered his first lawn mower derby last year; the Franklin County derby will be his fifth.

He will compete in the open class against not only other juveniles, but also adults.

Thomas will have a section of cheerleaders -- his uncles and cousins reside in Hilliard and plan to attend the derby, he said.

Thomas already has had some success. He has finished third and second in recent derbies, earning a $180 prize for a runner-up finish at a derby in Troy.

"I enjoy smashing into other people," said Thomas, a student at Triad Middle School.

He will be riding a John Deere 111 that he purchased for $125 at auction.

It had flat tires and a gas leak, but Thomas made the necessary repairs to make it derby-ready.

He invested about $275 in repairs and materials, with assistance from his sponsors, Franklin Equipment, Clayton Tire, Bailey Auto, Plantscapes and Thomas Homes.

Thomas also did his own work to make the necessary modifications to the mower.

"I have a lot of fun getting it ready and running the derby," he said.

The lawn mower class will be the first event in the July 19 derby. There is only one class to be staged.

The automotive demolition derby will begin at the conclusion of the lawn mower derby.

All events are at the grandstand of the Franklin County Fairgrounds, 4100 Columbia St.

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