No plans to cut racing career short

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by Chris Tobin

With the arrival of spring and the sprouting of lush grass, many people’s thoughts turn to that often-tedious task, mowing the lawns.

It is a different story for Timaru’s Nevin Rooney.

When spring arrives he does not wheel a mower out to mow; he wheels his mower out to race.

Mr Rooney (59) has the distinction of being South Canterbury’s only lawn mowing racer.

He is a veteran as well, having burned up mower racetracks for 25 years.

The New Zealand Lawn Mower Racing Association makes the claim on its website that the sport only started in New Zealand near Tauranga in 2003.

Speak to Mr Rooney and clearly they have got it wrong.

“I first saw the sport on TV in 1975 when I was at school, Timaru College. I never thought much about it; then I saw it again on TV in Gore so I went down.

“I went and raced. I’ve been racing ever since. I never looked back.”

Races are contested over zig-zag circuits of about 1500m against five to six other racers, although fields can be bigger.

Mr Rooney’s biggest thrill was winning two races at Kirwee in 2002.

“There were 16 in both races, one at 10 o’clock and the other at three o’clock. Around 1800 people watched the afternoon race; it was just after the big parade. It was a big machinery show with all sorts of vehicles.”

Mr Rooney says people of all ages take up the sport, with not a lot of money required to start.

A good second-hand racer costs only $300-$350 to build.

The four-horsepower machines can also be modified as contestants wish, making them zippy, powerful little racers.

“The fast ones can do 50kmh and the really fast ones 74kmh; I can get up to 60 to 70kmh.

“They are quick.”

And potentially dangerous.

Mr Rooney has had some bad spills. He has been knocked unconscious several times when his machine flipped.

“People said I should hang up my helmet. I said ‘no.’ The last two years I haven’t had an accident.

“I take it easy round the corners now. When you go around the corners fast they [the machines] start to wobble and they’ll flip. For the last two years I’ve been gliding round the corners and it’s a lot better.

“I don’t open up like I used to.”

Having raced extensively in Southland, and to a lesser degree in Canterbury, Mr Rooney says there is only one other driver that he is aware of who has been in the sport longer than him.

He intends racing for as long as he can.

“It’s a lot of fun and I get really excited to race.

“One guy in our club finished at 72. That’s how old they can get up to.”

Plenty of incentives remain to keep up his interest.

Next month there is a race in Gore, where he keeps one of his mower racers, then one in Edendale shortly after Christmas.

He says he might also give racing on a ride-on mower a go.

“They’re thinking of doing ride-on racing down in Southland. I’ve got my own ride-on.

“I might go for that. The ride-ons are more dangerous, because they’re top heavy.”

That will not hold Mr Rooney back.