Ready, Set, Mow! A Coast Guard Petty Officer fulfills his need for speed

by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kip Wadlow

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Slowly he circles, peering through protective goggles scanning the track and evaluating the competition, his mind in motion planning his strategy. His engine cackles and snarls in a furious staccato of barely contained power as he approaches the starting line, anticipating the moment he loves – the drop of the green flag. At that moment his body and machine merge into a howling, demonic blur and Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class Danny Dupepe is finally in his element, behind the wheel, racing his lawn mower.

Off the track

Dupepe, who became interested in racing lawn mowers three years ago, is a Coast Guard Machinery Technician and 17-year veteran. He is currently stationed with the Coast Guard’s Boat Forces Standardization (STAN) team in Yorktown, Va.

“As member of the STAN Team, I enforce Coast Guard policy regarding engineering material condition of the Coast Guard’s 26-foot Trailerable Aids to Navigation Boats, the 49-foot stern loading buoy boats and the 55-foot Aids to Navigation Boats. A proper working platform is needed for a safe and efficient mission execution. The Aids to Navigation Unit’s mission is for safely marking and maintaining waterways that are vital to the shipping industry and recreational boaters who travel the nation’s waterways,” said Dupepe.

Dupepe Family Racing

Dupepe said that his wife Kim and four-year-old son Shane share his passion for the sport.

“They enjoy the heck out of it. It’s a family event for us. Sometimes we even make it a camping weekend if there’s a campground by the race track,” said Dupepe.

“My son is only four but he can turn a screwdriver and a wrench so he’s helped me build as much as he could,” said Dupepe.

Kim Dupepe serves as team owner and helps track and manage the finances involved in racing the mower said she’s glad the whole family is involved in the sport.

“Before the race Danny and Shane will go and make sure the mower runs properly and make any adjustments needed, and then together they wash and wax the mower. It teaches again patience for the both of them. Just to watch them together and not argue about something is very rewarding and worth the money we have spent already,” said Kim

Speed Machines

The mowers used in lawn mower racing are not the stock, off the shelf models found at home and garden centers. Dupepe, like other racers, has invested a lot of time, care, skill and elbow grease into customizing his racing mower.

“I stripped the whole mower down to the frame, beefed up the front end suspension and changed the transmission,” said Dupepe.

Dupepe also did a significant amount of work under the hood to ensure his mower possessed the heart of a champion.

“I’ve stripped this down all the way to the bare engine block, installed a new camshaft, bored out the engine block and port and polished the engine and valves,” said Dupepe.

With all of the modifications Dupepe has made he estimates that his mower’s top speed is close to 55 mph, but says other, more powerful mowers have been clocked doing speeds in excess of 80 mph.
Safety First
While the mowers are capable of extremely high speeds the tracks are set up with rider safety in mind. In addition to the numerous items of safety equipment that the sport requires drivers to wear, which include but aren’t limited to, helmets, chest and rib protectors, leather gloves, and steeled toed boots, the racers are also required to have a qualified medical team on scene before racing can begin.

Competition and Camaraderie

Dupepe says that it’s this competitive spirit, combined with the camaraderie he feels with his fellow racers that make this sport worthwhile.

“When you’re racing on the track you’re going to bump into people but after the race is over you go shake hands with the other racers and apologize for anything that might have happened and they usually understand that it’s all apart of the racing,” said Dupepe.

Should racers get tangled up in the course of a race, the other participants are quick to lend a helping hand, providing tools, parts, mechanical know how or good ole fashioned manpower to get their fellow racers back up and running.

It’s about the People you Meet

While Dupepe enjoys quenching his need for speed he says his greatest joy stems from meeting the different people who come to the events and spending time with his family.

“It’s all about the people that you meet. It’s the people that you meet while you’re racing at the race track and it’s the people from in the crowd who want to know about your racer and how you got your start in the sport,” said Dupepe.

“Getting time to spend with my little boy and my wife make this the perfect thing to do on a Saturday,” said Dupepe.

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