Lawn mower race aims to cut down tough field

Friday, July 30, 2010


Staff Writer

BROOKLINE – Two coats of canary-yellow paint, four coats of fire-engine red and four clear coats provide the automotive shine that many would not expect to find on a lawn mower.

“I have the shiniest mower, and that’s all that matters,” said Paul Knightly, volunteer Brookline firefighter.

Knightly is not getting his mower ready to cut grass, but to mow down the competition at the Brookline annual lawn mower races at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 31. The race will be on Frances Drive in Brookline next to the baseball fields, off Route 130.

Knightly’s dominating performance last year has put a target on his back and has fueled the fire of a certain rival.

The fire department against the police department is a rivalry that will be put on display once again at the race. The two-person heat was set last year with Knightly versus police Chief Michael Kurland.

“The police never went over four miles per hour, and the fire department souped theirs up and never went under 20,” said Vicki Pope, Lions Club secretary.

Kurland does not deny last year’s “less-than-good showing.” He said he is able to handle embarrassment in small doses.

The two departments are close even though the race last year was anything but close, Kurland said. He used his sense of humor to show his balance of competition and fun.

“I was surprised last year, and if I had an officer on duty there would have been a speeding ticket,” Kurland said.

“There was this blur that went past me, and when I caught up to it, I realized it was a snail.”

Kurland likes his chances this year to take away the first-place glory from the fire department. He has become more aerodynamic after losing weight since the winter, he said.

“I have been training six months for this race,” Kurland said. “I have taken it for a test run. and I will tell you, it was quite scary.”

If for some reason the fire department is not present at the race. it could only mean they are afraid, he said.

If by chance, the police department receives a report from the fire department about a missing lawn mower, it will be taken seriously and dealt with the day after the race, he said. Kurland said he will have two ambulances at the race, if and only if, the fire department is present, just to ensure safety.

Besides Kurland making himself a more sleek, air-slicing driver, he has made some changes under the lawn mower’s hood. He would not say specifically what has been added, subtracted or modified.

“I heard they are going to do something, so hopefully it goes faster,” Knightly said, inviting the competition. “It is too much fun; if someone beats me they beat me.”

Knightly has been doing a different type of training from his law-enforcement counterpart.

His winning performance was the catalyst of a new hobby in lawn mower racing. He has since been racing on dirt track courses in Maine. He said there are three to 11 racers at a time going around 30 mph.

“It is like Nascar but with lawn mowers,” Knightly said. “It is a whole other world. This guy probably has five grand dumped into his mower,” he said.

More than 100 people lined Frances Drive next to the baseball field last year to watch, Gerry Paynter said. Paynter was in charge last year and will be running the growing event.

“The first year I think we had three racers and last year we had at least 20,” Pope said. “Word’s getting out and people are having a good time.”

The riders compete in either the stock or modified lawn mower division. Both divisions require riders to wear helmets and have a kill-switch on their mower, so the mower can’t drive itself.

Last year was the first time there was a crash at the race. The crash was not quite the magnitude of a Loudon pileup, and no one was hurt.

“My buddy was going too fast around the corner and a wheel popped off and he went into a tree,” Paynter said.

The family event can be exemplified by the Zimmermans. Gary Zimmerman has won all three years he has participated in the stock division.

His modest demeanor attributes his success to luck. His Craftsman mower came with his house when the family moved to Brookline in 2005. His wife, Kirsten, and their seven children have always been his fan base.

This year, his wife is organizing a toddler bike race as the appetizer for the mower mayhem.

“It is a light-hearted thing to do,” Zimmerman said. “It is not super competitive; people go out and enjoy doing it.”

He is expecting tough competition especially because his mower has a broken cylinder. The mower still moves well, but it has caused him to purchase a new mower for its original purpose of tending to the lawn.

His oldest daughter Rebecca will be riding the new mower this year and will attempt to take the trophy from her father.

“The pressure is on my dad to see if he can win again,” Rebecca Zimmerman said.

The 17-year-old is hoping luck runs in the family when she races in front of her friends and family.

She said in a perfect world, she would take down her father in the finals.

Gregory Meighan can be reached at 594-5833 or

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