Lewisburg Middle School seventh grader Kayle Sanders mixed the grace of her ballet training with a need for speed and her intelligence in her pursuit of the national championship in lawnmower racing in just her second full season on the American Racing Mower Association (ARMA) circuit.
Sanders captured the Junior Prepared Division (JP) title at the 2010 ARMA finals in Jonesboro, Ill., on Oct. 24.
"I was pretty happy," said Sanders in a recent interview. This is supposed to be a guy's sport, so I knew they weren't happy when I beat them."
Sanders became the first female JP Champion in ARMA and said that Indy Car, NASCAR, and ARCA superstar Danica Patrick is her role model, along with local racing legends Cameron Coble and David Earl Gentry, who have befriended her and helped her in her short racing career.
Sanders' racing mower is even painted with the same green color scheme as Patrick's Go Daddy.com cars and when Sanders takes the track, fans shout out "Here comes the Go Daddy Girl" in admiration.
Sanders, who was the Southeast Region champion and finished in a tie for third place in 2009, beat defending champion Jacob Herrin in Jonesboro for the 2010 title.
Sanders ran over 20 events during the campaign, including stops at Moose Mountain Speedway in Hastings, N.Y., Mechanicsville, Va., and in Tennessee in Fairview, Lebanon, Rogersville and at the Savannah Valley Speedway in Ooltewah.
Sanders, who has trained with locally renowned dance instructor Patty Clark since toddler age is also a member of the Beta Club at LMS and gave up a promising softball stint to devote all of her free time to lawnmower racing.
It was at a local lawnmower racing event at the Lewisburg Gas Company in 2008 where Sanders first became interested in the sport.
"She was very interested and wanted to go through the pits after that race," said her father Tony Sanders. "When she got home she said, 'I want to do that.' "
Her family, including mom Angie, had their doubts as time passed, but one day their daughter went out to Tony Sanders' shop out in their backyard where he was working and she said, "Have you started on my racing mower."
The elder Sanders was surprised and immediately went out and found an old mower on Old Farmington Road to modify, a $35 MTD varidrive with a 15.5 Tecumseh engine and it was off to the races.
The number 11 mower went undefeated and is now retired in the Sanders' shop.
The Sanders' found some new equipment for 2010 for the Junior Prep Division that sees speeds up to 24 mph and racing that is usually very competitive and equal, so a drivers' ability comes to the forefront.
"Kayle is a very gifted and patient driver," said her dad, who used to race go-carts on the old Alabama Dirt Series in the '70's. "And they all want to beat her because she is a girl driver."
Sanders, who wants to race go-carts, dragsters, or run NASCAR said, "I don't let it bother me that all the guys want to beat me. If I think about that, it would affect my racing. I just go out there and pick them all off, one at a time."
Tony Sanders likes lawnmower racing because it is a family sport and all the drivers help each other with breakdowns because of amount of time spent on preparation and the miles they travel to each event, but most importantly, they all want to see the kids live their dream.
Sanders was so helpful on the circuit this season that he was awarded with the first ever Most Helpful at the Track Award by ARMA.
Tony Sanders is a machinist at Cosmolab in Lewisburg and his wife Angie is a chemist at the same location.
You can follow Kayle's 2011 ARMA season by logging on to heymow.com, golawnmowerracing.com, or read about her 2010 title in Mowmentum Magazine, published by Aaron Turner out of Roann, Ind.