SPIRIT LAKE - Maybe to draw out suspense, maybe because it was their maximum speed, the two competitors rolled to the starting line gradually.
When the signal flashed, the motors revved and wheels crunched forward.
Onward they puttered toward the finish line, spectators craning necks for a glimpse.
"They're about there ... They're approaching ..." drawled announcer Jack Chapman over the intercom. "Just about ..."
Although the winner's speed didn't register on the electric sign, the safe guess was 6 miles per hour.
So marked the somewhat subdued beginning of the 12th annual Big Back-In lawnmower races in Spirit Lake on Sunday.
With roughly 2,000 packing Maine Street's sidewalks, enthusiasm was high, motors deafening and beer flowing freely as some mowers reached speeds that could keep up with a car.
"Everybody's got a lawnmower, everybody can relate to it," said event promoter Marc Kroetch, adding that folks attend from as far as Oregon and Canada. "It's one of those common-man types of events. Everybody can afford to do it."
Thirty-four racers lined up their riding lawnmowers for the races, proceeds from which went to Spirit Lake Parks and Recreation for a new security system and rental floating toys.
Depending on the race class, some had spent over several hundred dollars souping up their machines. Speeds had been modified, new paint jobs adding flames or flowers.
Autumn Massender, racing for the first time, had added a saddle to her mower, as well as a horse head and rump, donated from her cousin's bouncy horse.
"We've spent quite a bit on lawn mowers," the Spirit Lake woman said, adding that her family has invested in several machines. "We're helping our town. All this goes to benefit our Parks and Rec."
Clad in goggles, overalls and gloves, Marty Radenz declared he was ready to race the three mowers he had entered with his team, BAMM Racers.
Much labor had been invested in modifying pulleys and transmissions, all worth it to "be amazed at what you can do with a lawnmower," the Athol man said.
"If you've got a welder and a set of torches, you can build just about anything," Radenz said.
Winning wasn't necessarily on Erin Smith's mind. The Spirit Lake resident was racing on the 1973 lawnmower she inherited from her grandparents, who died in a car accident last fall.
Smith chose to ride the mower, painted blue and white with American flags sticking out, to honor them, she said.
"It feels good," she said before the race. "I'm excited, nervous."
Once racing got under way, two mowers at a time coasted down a 200-foot stretch.
The sound of motors revving exploded in the air, mowers kicking off the ground at the start.
As the racing classes advanced, mower speeds accelerated.
Six miles an hour. Twenty one. Twenty eight. Thirty five.
Cheers were wild as Kymberly Bowlby's all-aluminum lawnmower, the Aluminator, tore down the road at 53 miles per hour.
The freckled 20-year-old, racing since she was 14, said this is the fastest she's gone yet.
"My stepdad built it all from the ground up," Bowlby said, adding that the construction required "hours and hours and days and days."
She hopes she is a role model for younger girls, the Hayden resident said.
"I'm one of the only girls who goes this fast," she said.
Snapping photos of the decorated lawnmowers, Arvid Berg said he had trooped to the event for the noise and the crowd.
"This is as close as I can get to the SIR (Seattle International Raceway)," the Priest River man said.
Berg enjoys watching the crowd as much as the competitors, he added.
"It's good to see people participate in something," he said. "Especially in our time of the computer. You can find anything on the computer, but you can't find this."