There has been no shortage of patriotic fervor this week as 22 million (and change) Americans gathered Tuesday to watch a sport (soccer) in which we mostly don't know the intricacies of. But our country's honor was at stake on the pitch (or field, for those of us raised in the States), so we cheered (and drank) with the heartiest of will in support of the red, white, and blue.
The same can be said of today, as a little less than 22 million, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,200 American patriots will gather at Plank Hill Park in an Indiana slump in the road for the 52nd annual Twelve Mile 500 lawnmower race in the town of Twelve Mile (but the races are 15 miles in length, so don't get confused).
If a group of American athletes, who mostly work overseas and are coached by a German can rally the flag wavers, then surely a contingent of blue-collar rebels, who design, build and fix their own machines, laying it all on the line for mere reputation can be awarded the respect of their loved ones and fellow countrymen (as in “out in the country” men).
“It's cheap entertainment,” Scott Summers said. “We could probably go out and do about 100 other things on that day, but it's just a good, fun time.”
And that comes from a guy who hasn't won at any point in his near decade of racing.
The Twelve Mile 500 is the country's oldest race of its kind and the secret to its longevity is no secret at all, according to Summers.
“I honestly believe that its (success) is due to a couple of things,” Summers explained, “it's tradition, (and) it's a good time for families to get together. That shows a strong unity of the family, even around something as silly as lawnmower racing.”
The Roann resident, and his brother-in-law (fellow Roann resident) Aaron Turner, got “hooked” on the event courtesy of their cousin (another Roann guy) Todd Martin, who has not only raced (and is a two-time winner), but is married to the reigning Twelve Mile 500 Queen (his wife, the former Krystyna Hoover, was awarded the title in 1999, which also happened to be the last time the title was given out).
“I was in my mid-30s before I had ever heard of the Twelve Mile 500,” Summers said. “And now I'm hooked.”
If you believe that Turner, who now serves as the race's starter and p.a. commentator, Summers and Martin are enamored with the event, consider Krystyna's background.
She grew up on the main drag (the only drag) of Twelve Mile and has been attending the event her entire life.
“It's just always been something that I have done,” she said. “I still do it and I probably always will do it.”
Krystyna's love for the event runs deeper (and faster) than just the event itself. Her uncle Rob Robbins (“he goes by 'Cannonball,'” Kystyna added) went down in race lore in 1983 after wrecking twice in the race, including a flip after running over veteran competitor Don Lambert's foot.
The first of three races (Briggs class, Super Stock and Modified) gets underway at 1:30 p.m. and the cost is $5 (adults) and $1 (kids under 12 years of age, which also coincidentally happens to be the age limit on competing).
“Those are the ones that you kind of have to watch out for,” Summers said.
Summers makes this event an annual tradition, but skipped it in 2011, when he allowed two of his children (daughter Samantha and son Levi) to race in the event.
Samantha (a current IPFW sophomore) held her own with the boys and finished 12th in the Briggs class.
“Levi got tossed out for too many speeding (violations),” Summers said. “But the kids had fun.”
As everyone always does at the Twelve Mile 500.