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Lawn mower racers rally in Jarrettsville

Dawn Filos yanked the black helmet with the pink paint-splatter design down over her head and tugged at the ends of her matching pink gloves.

Then she stood and used her whole body to pull the cord to start her riding lawn mower.

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The gear might seem excessive for cutting grass, but Filos was ready to race. She and other members of the Mason-Dixon Lawn Mower Racing Association raced their lawn mowers on a makeshift grass loop track in Jarrettsville on Saturday.

Filos, 21, of Bel Air, has been racing lawn mowers since middle school. She and others travel to dirt tracks around the country to see who has the fastest mower.

They've taken off the blades, and many of the vehicles race up to 50 mph.

The sport has been gaining popularity, according to her father. Lou Filos, the owner of Little Lou's Lawn Service, was also a racer, and got his daughters interested in the sport.

Lou Filos said knee problems have forced his retirement from racing, but he helps his daughter fix up her mower: changing the brakes, replacing transmissions — anything to make her machine, "Nightmare in Pink," faster.

He stood alongside the track behind Jack's Small Engines shop near his daughter and four other riders. With a wave of a green flag, the riders roared and took off, while a small group of spectators watched from behind a fence.

Dawn Filos and the others zipped around orange traffic cones and up a steep hill. The exhibition race Saturday was smaller than planned because heavy rains made it difficult to get up the hill.

Her machine kept spinning out.

"It's so wet. It wouldn't grip," she said. At one point, she slid down the hill backward.

But for the riders, racing lawn mowers is less about the competition than the fun of building the machines, and the camaraderie that develops among them.

After the clutch on Dawn Filos' machine went out, she rode another association member's mower.

"We'll go home and fix it," she said. Many of the machines are made up of junkyard parts.

Lou Filos said anyone can build a machine for about $700. He said the Mason-Dixon association has riders in 10 different classes. The U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association, established 25 years ago, has 11 racing classes.

Riders wear the helmets and chest protectors used by motocross riders and race at many of the same facilities.

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Dawn Filos said she often gets the same reaction when she tells people outside the sport about it.

"They just chuckle," she said. "They don't believe it. They think it's a joke."

Dawn Filos would like to make a living out of riding lawn mowers. She has hopes of getting sponsors.

"I love this sport," Dawn Filos said. "I would love to be paid to ride, be the next Danica Patrick."

But she and her father said they enjoy the family atmosphere of the sport. Those involved in the sport are pretty close knit, they said.

"Other sports are so competitive," Lou Filos said. But in lawn mower racing, he said, riders will readily help each other out — or lending out pieces of equipment, for example.

"You don't see that in other sports," he said.

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