Mowing up a record runSat, 21 Jan 2012 00:00:00 -0800
Bobby Cleveland owns a record that most people didn't know existed and, frankly, probably never even thought about. But that really doesn't matter to Cleveland. He's gone faster on a lawnmower than anyone else on the planet. God bless America, and horsepower.
Cleveland took his modified lawnmower--and let's be clear here, the mowing deck is not attached to the rig--to the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 2010 and recorded a top speed of 96.529 mph.
“I was a little disappointed with that speed,” Cleveland said while standing near the record-setting mowing machine at the Barrett-Jackson auction extravaganza in Scottsdale, Ariz. “With the gear I had in it, I should have done about 120. But once you get above 80 mph, the wind really hits you. Plus, after the run I realized the drive belt was slipping quite a bit.”
Cleveland said he was hunched down beneath the tiny windshield as best he could while making his record-setting run. “I was really hoping to break 100 mph,” he said. “My boss said, ‘You've got get to 100 because nobody will ever remember the guy who did 94 mph.' And I really would have liked to have gone 104 mph, for my sponsor,” he said.
Cleveland's lawn-mower exploits were sponsored by 104 Octane booster, and he works as a spokesman for the Gold Eagle Co.'s various fuel-additive products.
Cleveland, 54, worked as a design engineer at Snapper, the lawn-mower company, in Georgia, where he got the bug to go fast on a mower. He participated in lawn-mower racing before heading out on his salt flat run.
The powerplant under the hood of his tractor isn't your basic grass cutter. He started out with a 20-hp Briggs & Stratton modified with billet connecting rods, a billet crank and a hotter cam, among other modifications. He said the engine is now probably putting out around 40 hp--more than enough to eclipse three digits. Cleveland said he's spent about $3,000 on the engine and about $4,000 in total for his entry into the record books. Talk about your affordable motorsports program.
“The most fun I've had on the mower is running about 80 mph around Bristol [Motor Speedway],” he said. “It took me three or four laps to get the tires up to temperature before I could go full throttle,” he said with a grin. “But man, that was fun.”
He's done similar exhibition runs around Texas Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, near his Georgia home.
Asked whether he was working toward a return to Bonneville to try and top the century mark, Cleveland said it's not on the near horizon. “Until somebody breaks my record, I'm probably not going out there anytime soon. But there's a guy in England who keeps wanting to know what he has to do to break my record, and I've told him everything he wants to know.”
Cleveland said there's definitely more speed in his machine, and he's worked on improving the aerodynamics, just in case he needs to reclaim his title.
“But I gotta say, to go as fast as I did is not easy to do.”
By Roger Hart