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Racers rev their engines at a recent running of the Mary Dunbar-Daluisio Memorial Lawnmower & RC Car Race. (Photo from the Facebook page of Grand Island Father's Day Lawn Mower Races & Classic Car Show)
Racers rev their engines at a recent running of the Mary Dunbar-Daluisio Memorial Lawnmower & RC Car Race. (Photo from the Facebook page of Grand Island Father's Day Lawn Mower Races & Classic Car Show)

Lawnmower race gears up!

Sat, Jun 1st 2024 01:55 pm

By Karen Carr Keefe

Senior Contributing Writer

The Father’s Day lawnmower race is a Grand Island tradition that began nearly 50 years ago with a boast between two West River Parkway residents over whose lawnmower was the fastest.

The tradition continues from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 16, at 3957 West River Parkway at Long Road.

The race was founded as a small neighborhood contest by longtime Islander and Realtor Floyd Doring. But the event has grown to include lots more participants and activities and is a major fundraiser for the Relay For Life of Grand Island.

The lineup includes a wide variety of things to do:

•Registration for the Mary Dunbar-Daluisio Memorial Lawnmower & RC Car Race is at 9 a.m. The race starts at noon.

•There also will be a Kids’ Mower Race (bubble mower provided) at noon.

•Preceding those races is the Kevin Doring Memorial 5K Walk/Run.

•A car/bike/truck show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is run by Rodney Reisdorf, owner of Mr. Best Wrench.

•Hot dogs, hamburgers and beverages are available from 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

•Kids T-shirt tie-dyeing will take place after the Kids’ Mower Race. Bring a white, cotton T-shirt. The first 24 kids who sign up for the tie-dyeing will get a free water bottle.

•There will be a prize raffle of a three-wheel bicycle valued at $800. The winner will be announced at 2:30 p.m. All proceeds go to the American Cancer Society Relay For Life.

Planners of this year’s race got together to talk about the event, its origins and ambitions, at the Grand Island Moose Lodge late last week.

Participants get ready for the Mary Dunbar-Daluisio Memorial Lawnmower & RC Car Race several years ago. This year’s event will be held Sunday, June 16. (Photo from the Facebook page of Grand Island Father’s Day Lawn Mower Races & Classic Car Show) 

An aerial view of the Grand Island Father’s Day lawnmower race. (K&D Action Photo & Aerial Imaging.)

Some members of the group planning the Mary Dunbar-Daluisio Memorial Lawnmower & RC Car Race gathered at the Moose Lodge to discuss the event taking place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 16, at 3957 West River Parkway at Long Road. From left (front row) are: Gary Roesch, Ron Hendel, Floyd Doring, Mary Ehde and Eric Berger; (back row): Mark Leffler. (Photo by Karen Carr Keefe)

Doring, 90, originated the lawnmower race in the summer of 1978.

“I was cutting my grass and I finished cutting it. And a guy by the name of Pat Murphy lived next-door to me. And Pat was cutting his grass and he stopped and he said, ‘My grass cutter is faster than yours.’ And I said, ‘Do you want to race?’ And he says, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” Doring said. “So, we went out in the street. There was nobody there. And we just raced and we went up to Sunset (Drive) and back and we had the first lawnmower race.”

“Excuse me. Who won?” his friend Gary Roesch asked as Doring was explaining.

“I won,” Doring quickly responded, to the delighted laughs of his friends and fellow planners.

The second year, the dueling lawnmowers gained a little more fanfare. A neighbor’s wife stood outside waving a flag. This time, there were three lawnmower racers, and Roesch’s father, the late Gene Roesch, came down to start the contest.

“And then it just started to grow,” Doring said. The lawnmower race ran from 1978 until about 1988. Doring then resumed the races after a hiatus of several years.

Gary Roesch said the lawnmower race categories include everything from stock lawnmowers to ones that will do 70 mph in 300 feet.

“There’s five classes, and we have specifications for each class,” he said. The organizers can classify the participants as they show up.

It takes a village – or in this case a lot of residents of the Town of Grand Island – to make the lawnmower race work. Ron Hendel, who’ll be sitting at the starting line, provides the sound system for the event. Town Supervisor Peter Marston supplies equipment for the lawnmower race. The town parks, highway and engineering departments lend equipment for the day and participate, Roesch said.

“The Moose Lodge helps us out tremendously and volunteers … in different activities, such as the kids’ race,” Roesch said.

Doring was the one who urged Moose Lodge member Mary Ehde to get involved.

“He asked me one day about 15 years ago, ‘So, do you want to help out with the lawnmower races,’ and I said, ‘Do you mean the ones on West River? No, but I’ve got a suggestion,’ ” Ehde said. “We do something to encourage the kids to stay” because it’s a Father’s Day event, she said.

Ehde went to a meeting, was put in charge of the kids’ race and has since been involved on many other aspects of the event.

“Floyd has a way of getting people to do things,” she said.

Ehde explained they listen to him because he is so kind and appreciative “about wanting help doing something for other people.”

Roesch stressed the race is not an all-day event. It’s structured to finish in time to allow families to celebrate Father’s Day.

Hendel keyed in the benefits of the event: “There’s free parking, no cover charge, family-oriented – and you go home.”

Early on, the race was a fundraiser for the Grand Island Fire. Co.

“We bought the first Jaws of Life for the fire department from the money we collected,” Doring said.

The fire company will have a membership recruiting tent during this year’s lawnmower race.

Eric Berger, whose father, William, was one of the first participants in the race, opened an insurance policy for the event through his company, Eric Berger Insurance, and continued the policy for about four years until the American Cancer Society funded the insurance.

 In the 1980s, Islander Mary Dunbar-Daluisio suggested the lawnmower race become a fundraiser for the Relay For Life, which she chaired for a number of years. When she passed away from cancer in 2017, the race was renamed the Mary Dunbar-Daluisio Memorial Lawnmower and RC Car Race.

“Last year, we generated to the American Cancer Society a little over $6,000,” Roesch said. “It’s not a little deal. But we had a lot of sponsors last year.”

“We’re a little lean (on sponsors) this year,” Ehde said. The group hopes to gain more sponsors and participants to help equal last year’s donation to the Relay.

To become a sponsor, contact Relay Co-chair Lynn Dingey at [email protected].

Roesch said Dingey is invaluable for her help in the logistics of organizing the lawnmower race. This includes such tasks as obtaining permits, sending letters, getting prizes and advertising.

This year, there’s a keen competition between Grand Island celebrity racers Mike Ziehm, president of Moose Lodge 180, vs. Dale Berger, commander of Charles N. DeGlopper Memorial VFW Post 9249.

The Kevin Doring Memorial Walk/Run is named for the late son of Floyd and Chie Doring. Chie, a noted artist and porcelain painter and a Grand Island Citizen of the Year, passed away March 10.

Doring said being involved in the event has meant a lot to him over the years.

“I’ve so appreciated that we picked the right people to do the job, and I hope it continues on for years and years,” he said. “It’s something that Grand Island is known for.”

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