Bismarck man mowing down the competition
He pulled the plug on the grinder right after a shower of sparks shot to the floor of the garage, just in front of a tall cupboard with a metal sign screwed to the door.
"Mr. Mow it All," it said.
That's what people in the mow call Don Gienger, though his yard isn't expertly trimmed or anything.
On top of the cupboard, above the metal sign, a slew of trophies from races across the country proclaimed Gienger's domownance. First place, first place, first place ...
Considering the surroundings, one word came to mind. GRASSCAR!
Gienger is one of the country's best lawn mower racers. His Bismarck shop, G Team Racing, is the nation's first custom shop dedicated to lawn mower racing engines and component parts. Mower bodies and parts lay around the homemade cam grinder in his garage, and a chalkboard schedule mounted to one of the walls shows how busy he is making parts for other racers.
Gienger founded the North Dakota Lawn Mower Racing Association in 1999 and, since its first race in Mandan, has been the state's most successful racer. This year, he kicked grass on a whole new level.
Gienger won the national points championship for his class in the STA-BIL National Lawn Mower Racing Series, the lawn mower equivalent of NASCAR's Nextel Cup. He claimed the title at the annual finals during Labor Day weekend in Ohio. Gienger's feat will be featured on national television this week, when the Outdoor Channel replays the championship race.
"Don Gienger's accomplishment is absolutely awesome," said Jeremy Berrington, a spokesman for the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association. "We're all very proud of Don ... and hope he continues his winning ways in the future."
The USLMRA sanctions the STA-BIL series, which consists of an 18-race national circuit. The series culminates with races each year on Labor Day weekend. Gienger's second-place finish in the final solidified his points championship. The winner of the final, by the way, was using an engine Gienger built.
The championship will be aired at 6:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday.
"If he wasn't already well-known, he will be now,"Berrington said. "It's safe to say Don is one of our most popular riders."
Gienger has been racing for nine years, and has operated G-Team out of his garage for the last three. Gienger's specialty is custom-built cams, which he creates on a homemade grinder. The grinder is powered by an old treadmill motor.
It's that kind of ingenuity and passion that drives lawn mower racers, who don't earn prize money. They do it as an outlet for their love of racing and mechanics, Gienger said. They're grass monkeys.
"It's still kind of ridiculous, when you think about what you're doing,"he said. "You can dress them up like stock cars and everything else, but you're still racing lawn mowers. I hope our sport is taken seriously - when you're going 35, 45 miles per hour, wheel-to-wheel with the next guy, bad things can happen - but it's still a little wacky."
There are 20 local racing chapters across the country, and 600 members of the national association.
Since Gienger started the North Dakota circuit, he's noticed a lot of growth in the sport. The NDLMRA had its first race in downtown Mandan during the annual Buggies-n-Blues car rally, which attracts thousands of people.
"There were people all over the place, and when the mowers were out ripping around it was like - shoop! - everybody is gathered around," Gienger said. "It was like we had strippers on the stage or something. As soon as we were done, the crowd dispersed."
There are now five classes of racing mowers, based on engine power and accessories, acknowledged by the national association. Blades are removed for safety. Racers in each class must compete in a certain number of contests in their local chapter, as well as a number of nationally sanctioned points events, to make the finals.
Despite competing in just half the points events this year, Gienger walked away with the title in the mid-sized CP division. He hopes national coverage will be a boon for the sport. So does the USLMRA.
"Like any other sport, the more air time we can get on major networks and the more spotlights we can get in front of the public, it does wonders for us," Berrington said. "It takes what was once and could still be a cult sport, and gives it some national attention."
And front and center will be Gienger's black No. 3 racing mower.
Or, as it's known on the circuit, The Intimowdator.
(Reach reporter Tony Spilde at 250-8260 or tony.spilde@;bismarcktribune.com.)