Hot Rod Tour brings fastest mower to QC

Hot Rod Tour brings fastest mower to QC

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BETTENDORF -- Bobby Cleveland has done more with a lawnmower than most have done with a car.

The man customized an old Snapper, turning it into the world's first "monster" mower with 4-wheel drive, steering and an independent suspension. He also broke the land speed record for a lawnmower with a speed of 96.529 mph.

"I tell everybody it scared me so good," Mr. Cleveland said about the record.

On Thursday, he brought both mowers to the Hot Rod Power Tour, which stopped at the Isle Casino Hotel in Bettendorf.

This was the sixth of seven cities on the Power Tour, a week-long event spanning about 1,600 miles. The tour started 20 years ago when the then editor-in-chief of Hot Rod Magazine decided to take a road trip with friends.

What started with about 20 cars has expanded exponentially. According to Hot Rod Magazine publisher Jeff Dahlin, this year's tour has about 5,200 cars participating, making it the world's largest traveling car show.

"It's 10 times the size of a normal car show," Mr. Dahlin said. "Venues will say, 'Oh yeah, we've had car shows before', and then the Power Tour shows up, and it's a completely different animal."

This year is the seventh time Mr. Cleveland, or the STA-BIL "Engine Answerman" as he is known, has done the Power Tour. He goes to about 25 to 30 car shows per year, showing his custom mowers and educating people on how to take care of fuel systems.

Although it's a lot of work, he said that talking to people about lawnmowers or engines of any kind is well worth it.

"The Hot Rod Power Tour is the perfect place to be because these are gearheads here, and they take care of their cars," Mr. Cleveland said.

Mr. Cleveland is a gearhead as well. The Georgia native spent 27 years working in the engineering department for a Snapper mower factory. It was there he began taking apart mowers that were considered junk, and fixing them up to make them go faster.

"I was always thinking, 'they ought to have a competition for cutting grass because I think I'd do pretty good,'" he said.

It was then he discovered the US Lawn Mower Racing Association. He entered his first race in Decatur, Ala., and was hooked.

Mr. Cleveland has been racing for 18 years and won nine USLMRA national titles.

What's perhaps the most remarkable part about him and the other racers is that they don't really compete for money. They do it for trophies, bragging rights and because they love it.

"It's a poor man's NASCAR; that's what we call it," he said. "You can get a lawnmower anywhere and fix it up, make it pretty and make it go fast."

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