Laurens festival encourages backseat driving

LAURENS – It’s probably a safe bet that a backseat driver is something that most motorists would probably prefer to do without.

For participants in the Lawnmower Obstacle Races at the second annual Laurens Fall Festival, it’s a necessity that you can’t do without -unfortunately.

Father-son team Ron Hapes and Cody Hapes, 14, were the first to give it a try.

Ron Hapes sat in the small wagon behind the mower, Cody Hapes in the driver’s seat – blindfolded.

Hapes, while an experienced lawnmower driver, had never tried doing so without being able to see.

“Technically,” Cody Hapes said. “I sometimes have my eyes closed when I’m mowing messing around in the yard.”

The pair completed the course in 1 minute and 46.6 seconds without hitting any cones.

Kaleb Simacek, 14, of Manson, got his driving directions from his grandfather, Bob Simacek, of Laurens.

Simacek had faith in his grandson’s ability.

“He drives all my equipment,” he said. “He just never had to be blindfolded.”

Bob Simacek has less faith in those he shared the road with to get to the event.

“Sometimes, I think they’re all blindfolded,” he said.

Ben Wadsley, of Humboldt, got to enjoy some good-natured sibling rivalry at the event. He entered with his sister, Caytlyn Wadsley, 16, of Laurens.

Who the best driver is might be remained a contentious issue.

“Me, definitely,” Ben Wadsley said.

His sister’s answer?

“Whatever,” she said.

The pair made it through with the winning time though, 1 minute and 42 seconds.

There are some things to might do differently the next time.

“She could have been more specific,” he said of her direction-giving.

“You could have been more specific to tell me that,” she said.

Connie Dallenbach, secretary for the Laurens Chamber of Commerce, helped organize the event.

She said the idea for a lawnmower obstacle course is an homage to Alvin Straight who drove a John Deere riding lawnmower from his home in Laurens to his brother’s home in Wisconsin in 1994. The trip was later made into the film “The Straight Story” by director David Lynch.

Straight’s old machine is still there.

“We’ve got the lawnmower,” Dallenbach said, adding that they are hoping to construct a building where it can be displayed.

She was also responsible for getting the trophies together -this year, pumpkins with the silhouette of a man on a lawnmower.

“I just painted them on,” she said.

Each gourd got a one, two or three birthday candle as well. Dallenbach’s hoping they top the awards from last year’s races.

“They all got vintage GPS devices,” she said. “One was a map of the world, the other the U.S. and one of Iowa.”

Most of the teams gave the course another try with the job of back cart driver and driver switched.

Cody Hapes, 14, took the cart and left the driving to his dad Ron Hapes, the second time.

It did not end well – at least for one run-over traffic cone.

“I think we did worse,” Ron Hapes said. “I failed.”

Other events Saturday included a parade, hay rack rides, barbecue competition and a live band.

The Laurens Fall Festival continues today with a pancake breakfast from 8 .m. to noon at the fire station.