TWELVE MILE — Lawns have been lush with all of the rainfall this year.
So the lawnmower racers were well-prepared and ready to put on a show for the 50th annual Twelve Mile 500 Thursday at Plank Hill Park.
Two youngsters and an old-timer ended up taking the checkered flags at the Greatest Spectacle in Mowing.
John Troyer, who’s been around since push reel mowers were in vogue, won the Super Stock division. Meanwhile, Purdue University student Cole Calloway won the Briggs division, and Peru High School student Darren Ulerick took the Modified division.
The Super Stock race had the most entertaining finish. In fact when it ended Troyer wasn’t even sure he had won.
Troyer and his nephew John Troyer trailed by nearly a full lap on the last lap when the co-leaders got tangled up, causing a red flag and one more lap.
Troyer ended up passing his nephew during the extra lap to take home his third straight win in the event.
“When we crossed that finish line I really didn’t think I’d won,” Troyer said. “I knew it was a possibility; I really didn’t think I had won.
“Wow, it was a wild finish and fun. It’s kind of unfortunate for the guys that were a lap ahead of us. I’ve been there.”
The Troyers are members of the First Family of Mowing, and this time an elder statesman won.
“He had a minor mechanical problem which I did not know,” Troyer said. “He was still running real good laps despite that. He ran a real good race.”
Troyer is slowly but surely catching up to his brother Randy’s record of 10 Twelve Mile titles.
Randy finished fourth in the Briggs division and 12th in the Modified division Thursday and is in a bit of a championship drought.
“I’m not sure what his problem is,” John Troyer said. “I think he’s pretty much just an old geezer.”
Calloway, 19, is a Pioneer grad and is entering his sophomore year at Purdue, where he’s an agricultural systems manager major. His winning ride Thursday in the Briggs division went about as smoothly as possible.
“I took it easy the first part of the race,” he said. “I ended up getting by a few people and kept my black flags down and watched my speed.
“I was first or second through the first part of the race and took the lead for good about halfway through. Three-quarters through I got a pretty good lead.”
It was Calloway’s fourth running in the event. He finished third last year. He said he didn’t do anything special this time around.
“No, my machine is a pretty basic model. There are some pretty fancy ones, but mine was only a couple hundred dollars. Cheap and basic was the winning ticket,” he said.
Calloway wanted to thank Brad Wilson for helping him build his motor. He added he plans on competing at Twelve Mile for many years to come.
“It’s a good Fourth of July tradition,” he said.
The Modified division has almost no restrictions in regards to engines, transmissions, fuel, etc. Ulerick had the best mower in the field and led almost the entire way in a dominating performance.
Ulerick’s father, Darrell, helped him build his well-oiled machine, he said.
“I think my dad’s got two grand just in the motor itself,” he said.
Ulerick, 16, doesn’t even have his driver’s license yet. But he’s proven to be a talented driver. He finished runner-up in his first running of the event as a 13-year-old in 2010.
“My dad’s been in it for as long as I can remember ever since I was born,” he said. “I was just trying to stay under the speed limit and use as much of the track as possible because I knew they were going to come up on me.”
Last year marked the 50th running of the event and had a much different feel. The area was in the midst of a massive drought and there was a 106-degree heat index on the holiday.
But on Thursday the weather conditions were nearly perfect with the temperature at a comfortable 77 degrees. There was also a much bigger crowd on hand.
“We had a very good crowd. After the heat wave of last year, I’d probably definitely put it in the top 10,” event organizer Mark Lowe said.
Lowe is a farmer and said the conditions are of course much better for farming this year as well.
“You lose 10 percent in a wet year and you’re going to lose half in a dry year,” he said. “The stuff looks very good this year. I’ll just say I’m very happy. God’s blessed us.”
The drivers often put a lot of time and money into the event and some of them wore their e-mow-tions on their sleeves Thursday.
“We had some issues as far as some finishes were concerned,” Lowe said. “We had a few hurt feelings, probably a few hurt ribs and a couple hurt arms. We only sent one to the hospital, I suppose that’s not a bad afternoon.
“They are going fast. That’s what we try to stress to the guys is, ‘Look, you guys are racing for $250. It is not NASCAR. If a guy gets past you or not, please keep your eyes straight ahead and don’t try and do something dumb and get somebody hurt because it’s not worth it.’”
In another milestone on the day, former Logansport girls basketball coach J.T. Hubenthal became the first 70-year-old to compete at the event. Hubenthal guided the Lady Berries to a sectional title in 1997 over Ruth Riley’s North Miami Warriors team during the senior season of the former Notre Dame star and current WNBA player. Hubenthal placed 20th in the Super Stock division Thursday.
Beau Wicker is the sports editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.