Talladega. Daytona. Indy. Race fans know those tracks.
But what about the one in Wamic, Oregon? The south Wasco County community — population of 123 according to the U.S. Census Bureau — is a huge presence in the motorsports world.
Most days in Wamic move at a slower pace. But two-to-three weekends a month in the summer at Mike Sofich Raceway, it’s time to fire up the lawnmowers.
“They’re like ‘You race lawnmowers?’ And I’m like ‘Yeah I do,'” said young racer Cooper Shelquist from The Dalles.
Drivers turn out to turn left. Of course, these are not the lawnmowers you may have in your backyard shed. While they have mowed grass at one time or another, the blades are taken off and it’s all about speed.
Kegan Grast is a rookie driver out of Dufer. The 12-year-old coaxed his dad, Jeremy, into giving it a go.
“You know a kid needs a good hobby, something to push them a lil bit,” Jeremy said.
“I’m learning a lot about different speeds, the amount of air to put in the tires, RPMs,” Kegan said.
This all started with a nonprofit. Sportsman’s Grass Car Racing started in 2009. The group built a track next to the restaurant and bar of one of its founders.
And they fine-tuned a racing community.
“It’s a family thing,” Cooper said. “It looked fun when my dad raced so I thought I might as well do it.”
Former driver turned track emcee Mark Grant was hooked after watching a race in 2011.
“I mean, you tell people you’re racing lawnmowers and the ones who don’t quite get it are like ‘You mean like how fast can you mow grass?’” Mark said.
Some stumble on the scene by accident.
“Just happen to be camping over at Pine Hollow,” one spectator said. “You can only do so much of just sitting around.”
Some cheer on family.
“I’m here to watch my grandson race,” said another.
You never know who you’ll meet at the tailgate along Wamic Market Road.
“We have lawnmowers but we don’t race them,” said Jireh Henderson, visiting from Australia. “It’s funny, interesting but cool.”
It’s the super speedway of racing lawnmowers.
“We’re 880 feet from the center line. We are the largest track in the nation,” Mark said. “We have mowers that can reach almost 60 mph on the straight over here.”
The junior class is a little slower. But for a rookie driver like Cooper, you can’t put a governor on fun.
“I just like stuff that’s fast,” Cooper said.
There is, of course, risk. Cooper won her first two races, but a crash in the final heat sent her to the hospital with a broken leg.
If you want to catch the action, visit the Sportsman’s Grass Car Racing Facebook page. The rest of the schedule for the 2023 season is:
- Aug. 5: Noonish
- Sept. 2: 7:00 p.m.
- Sept. 3: Noon
- Sept. 16: Noon