Archive for Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Lawnmower Man

July 3, 2002

Like a million other guys, Darin Furhman takes a lot of pride in the way he cares for his lawn.

However, unlike most of the other proud lawnkeepers around, Furhman's yard is about 93 yards wide and 587 yards long. It is also one of the only lawns that it's OK to paint on.

Furhman is one of the groundskeepers at Kansas Speedway and while most people dread the thought of getting out in the heat to cut the grass, this long-time mower thrives this time of year.

"This is pretty much my dream job," Furhman said. "This track is just awesome and being here, doing what I do, I can't imagine a better job."

Chances are if there was a better job for him, Furhman would be able to imagine it. The 36-year-old Missouri native has been in the Kansas City area for eight years and in the turf maintenance business for 17 years.

Furhman's interest in turf maintenance began when he was young, growing up on a farm in Maitland, Mo. His general interest of the outdoors as well as a few stints working jobs at golf courses led him to golf turf school at Rutgers University. After graduating from Rutgers in 1994, Furhman landed a job at the St. Joseph Country Club in St. Joseph, Mo. There, he spent several years learning the ins and outs of golf course maintenance before moving on to golf course construction.

Furhman's five years in the golf course construction business convinced him that he preferred maintaining the courses to building them. So one month before Kansas Speedway's inaugural race, in May 2001, Furhman came to Kansas Speedway.

"I liked it, but it was extremely hard work," Furhman said of golf course construction. "The problem with construction is you never get to see the beauty of the course, you're always dealing with dirt."

At the Kansas Speedway, Furhman has never felt himself longing for beauty. The newest major race track in the United States is as beautiful to a racing fan as a track can get. From its purple and yellow seats to its state-of-the-art features and facilities, Furhman said the Kansas Speedway is a race fan's paradise. It's also paradise for a groundskeeper like Furhman.

The Speedway sits on a 1,200-acre site, and Furhman and the rest of the crew are responsible for mowing and maintaining 800 of those acres. In addition to its acreage, the Speedway has thousands of plants and hundreds of trees within its boundaries.

While Furhman is responsible for mowing areas outside of the track, too, it's the area inside the track he calls it the showpiece he takes most pride in.

This 8.33-acre area sits directly in front of the grandstands between the seats and pit row. It is home to the logos of each race and an elaborate mowing pattern that Furhman changes up for each race.

"I basically try to frame the logos with a good mowing pattern," Furhman said. "The patterns are pretty much up to me, but I tend to use a lot of straight lines because they stand out better."

When viewing the showpiece, the lighter stripes indicate the mower was going away from the viewer and the darker green strips are a result of the mower going toward the viewer. If one was to stand on the opposite side, the lines would actually change appearances and that is one of the things Furhman enjoys so much about mowing the infield at the speedway.

"All I'm basically doing is bending the grass in different directions," Furhman said. "But you can really create some cool effects that way."

Furhman said that any time he watches a major sporting event, whether it is another race or a baseball or soccer game, all he watches is the grass.

"You really can get a lot of ideas from watching baseball," he said. "Some of those designs are incredible. I've got some great things planned for the Winston Cup race (in September), but I don't want to let those out of the bag just yet. There will just be a lot of lines going a lot of different ways."

After 17 years in the business, it's fair to call Furhman an expert. He knows how to eliminate a number of turf diseases and he knows exactly what to do when "Mother Nature's not so kind."

However, despite his expert status, Furhman admitted that he has made a mistake or two. The mistakes never stray too far from a crooked line here or a mistakenly cut patch of grass there, but being the expert and perfectionist he is, Furhman said he always goes back and fixes his mistakes even if he's the only one who would notice it.

Even though his job has him spending eight hours a day on a lawnmower, Furhman said he cares just as much about his yard at home. Although the lawn at his house is not nearly as large as his showpiece at the Speedway, Furhman said he does have fun with different designs at home, too.

"It used to be checkerboarded," Furhman said. "But now that it's race season, it's just long. I don't get to my house during daylight hours during the racing season."

But don't feel sorry for Furhman. As he divulged his daily schedule, he smiled. After all, turf care is in the man's blood and although he admits he'd like to keep his lawn at home in good shape, he's just as content to have his lawn at work looking as sharp as possible.

"Millions of people see this grass," Furhman said. "Millions of people don't see my yard. So I try to focus on doing my job well first and I think I have as much fun as anybody."

Furhman's latest lawn design, a diagonal-cut, straight line pattern, will be on display to millions this weekend, when the Craftsman Truck Series race comes to town Saturday, July 6, and an Indy Racing League event comes to the Speedway Sunday, July 7.

Both events will be on national television and both are sold out.

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