Enthusiasts at a western York County lawn mower track are looking for another place to pursue their hobby after the owner decided to close the course.
Brian Saunders, owner of Phat Bottom Speedway near York, announced last week that he would not continue efforts to keep the course open after complaints from neighbors forced it to close earlier this fall.
Saunders said the financial burdens of making Phat Bottom comply with zoning and planning requirements were too great.
Mark Ledford, 49, of York, who has been racing at Phat Bottom for four years, said he is looking for other sites. He said a go kart track in Blacksburg may offer some lawn mower races.
“We’ll have to travel a little ways, but we’re hoping somebody will open a track close by, and right now the only one I know of is going to be the one in Blacksburg,” he said.
Some drivers also plan to travel the circuit and compete with a national lawn mower racing association, he said.
“We’ll keep racing somewhere,” he said. “I’m going to start preparing my mowers for next year’s racing and when we can find a place to race, we’re going to try to get there.”
The racing began in 2009, when the 15-acre property that includes the track and parking area was owned by Kenny and Kelly Hart. The Harts moved in 2013 and sold the track and a home on the property to Saunders, a horse enthusiast.
Saunders, who owns 12 horses, said that before he closed on the property, he planned to shut the track down and establish a horse arena in its place. Then he visited some of the races and saw the passion and camaraderie of the racers and decided to let it continue.
However, complaints from neighbors led officials to determine the site was not zoned to have a speedway. Frequent visits from sheriff’s deputies responding to noise complaints during races forced Phat Bottom to shut down in September.
Phat Bottom patrons rallied to keep the track open. The York County Council approved the necessary zoning changes, and Saunders had been gathering signatures from neighboring property owners to get an exemption from the subdivision’s covenant allowing the speedway to reopen.
However, Saunders said the cost of county requirements to operate the speedway were too great. He said it would require handicapped restrooms, bigger safety barriers, grading for drainage and an on-site concession stand.
“You’re talking about major costs,” he said. “You might as well be building a Walmart.”
He said: “The changes you have to go through to make it legal would add three times what it cost (to operate), and charging $5 a head just isn’t going to cover it.”
Saunders said he knows the racing community is disappointed. “I’ve had a lot of calls and a lot of nice messages from a lot of fans that hate it that they weren’t going to be able to bring their kids here anymore,” he said.
Brian Johnson of York, whose 7-year-old son Miles raced at Phat Bottom, said he hopes his son can continue the hobby elsewhere.
Johnson, who operated a concession stand at the track, said lawn mower racing was inexpensive family fun.
“I really hate that they closed that track,” Johnson said. “We have been doing that for four years. And we haven’t missed a race in four years.”
Saunders said he has no further plans to be involved in lawn mower racing. “I’ve got nine horses, so part of it will become a riding arena,” Saunders said, “and the rest will be hayfields and pastures.”
Bristow Marchant with The Herald contributed to this report.