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Off the lawn and into the pit

People in the crowd at Wednesday's demolition derby can expect plenty of low-speed collisions and overturned garden tractors in the Dakota Couty Fair's first lawnmower demolition derby. The event is relatively new in Minnesota but it is popular in the South.

Garden tractors have long been useful tools for hacking away at overgrown lawns, but at this year's Dakota County Fair the normally peaceful landscaping tools are going to unleash a whole new kind of destruction.

The lawn tractors and their drivers will be set lose on each other in a miniature-scale demolition derby to be held at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11.

The lawn mower derbies are a relatively new phenomenon in Minnesota, but fair board member Chris Wright said they're big in the South. The Cannon Valley Fair held one earlier this year, and one of the drivers who participated there brought the idea to Dakota County. The fair has made other modifications to its derbies -- throwing in pick-up trucks and other large vehicles. But this year going smaller seemed like an appealing idea.

"We're always looking for something new," Wright said. "From what we heard, we thought it would be something kind of new and interesting, and it sounds like quite a bit of the mower drivers are from this area."

Dave Haan is one of those drivers. He's the one who the tractor derby to town, but he'd never participated in a lawn tractor derby before the Cannon Valley Fair. He liked the idea, though, and he talked Jim Kaczmarek, the owner of Jim's Repair in Hastings, into helping him put together a tractor to compete.

"It's just something new," Haan said. "We've been going to derbies for years, and the combine derbies are getting boring. The car derbies are the same winners every year."

The lawn mower derbies are a different experience, even if the basics of the competition are the same. The derby still pits a number of drivers against one another for a kind of battle royale in which the last driver left standing is the winner. But speeds are slower, and the vehicles are more likely to tip than their full-size siblings. Haan said he and Kaczmarek had the weighting of their tractor wrong their first time out and rolled over several times.

They're working to perfect their approach, though, and they certainly have the experience to get things right. Kaczmarek has been repairing lawn tractors for years, and he's competed in lawn-tractor pulls since the 1970s. The tractor derby was new to him when Haan brought it up, but he quickly discovered the appeal.

"I'm hooked on the tractor derbies," he said. "I hope we can get enough tractors there. We had about 16 of them down in Cannon Falls. That was a good number of them."

Kaczmarek said the crowd seemed to enjoy the show.

"They were pretty active, too," he said. "They were excited. Some of the tractors, there were a fair amount of rollovers, too. It was very interesting."

The tractors involved are for the most part right off the lawn. There are bars or cages to protect the drivers' legs, and bumpers on the fronts of the tractors. The mower decks, of course, have been removed.

Wright said she hopes to lawn tractor event will bring an enjoyable twist to Wednesday's derby night.

Kaczmarek and Haan don't expect the event will have any problem finding an audience. Haan, who works for Dakota County's transportation department, said his co-workers are still talking about the Cannon Valley event.

"They've never seen something like this before," Haan said. "The crowd had a blast. I think you're going to see the crowd go crazy."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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