Hundreds of eager spectators hoping to enjoy an afternoon of family fun at the Ellerbe Lions Club lawnmower racing track were turned away last weekend because grown men were squabbling over hot dogs and funnel cakes.
Kermit Perkins, who manages U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association-sanctioned races in Ellerbe under contract with the Lions Club, canceled the June 13 race in a dispute with Lions members over which vendors would be allowed to sell food at the event. The future of lawnmower racing in Richmond County is now in jeopardy, with Perkins telling the Daily Journal this week that races won’t resume unless the Lions agree to a series of operational changes.
Perkins said the Lions Club wouldn’t let a second vendor set up shop inside the gates in order to shield its regular vendor, who is a Lions member, from competition. Lynn McCaskill, Lions district governor-elect, told us Perkins personally invited a vendor who had not applied for approval from the club and had at least one past disagreement with the Ellerbe Lions. The club wouldn’t let him in, and Perkins walked.
After an emergency meeting of the club’s executive committee, McCaskill said Monday night that the Lions would seek a sit-down with Perkins to iron out their differences.
We hope for the good of all involved that Perkins and Lions leaders can reach an agreement and bring lawnmower racing back to the Ellerbe dirt track. Everyone loses if the two sides can’t come together.
The Lions Club uses proceeds from race admission fees to fund scholarships, donations to community groups and purchases of eyeglasses for needy residents with vision problems. Perkins earns a portion of gate receipts. Drivers enjoy camaraderie and friendly competition. Spectators get an afternoon of entertainment.
There’s no upside to a permanent shutdown. Both sides should start negotiations with the understanding that such an outcome is unacceptable.
As for the standoff over concessions sales, the Lions and Perkins both seem to have valid concerns.
McCaskill said the club’s agreement with Perkins stipulates that Lions members have the sole responsibility for selecting vendors. The track is Lions Club property, and it ultimately is the club’s prerogative to decide who should be able to sell food there. We fail to see how hot dogs and sodas affect the race itself or why Perkins would feel the need to weigh in on internal club decisions.
Perkins, too, has a point in that it raises eyebrows when a Lions Club member seems to have the market cornered on business that his club provides. While we don’t suspect an intentional exclusion of other vendors to pad the member’s pockets, the Lions ought to realize that even the appearance of a conflict of interest must be avoided at all costs.
McCaskill says the club has no exclusive sales agreement with its member and that additional vendors are welcome to apply. To avoid any suggestion of protectionism, perhaps the Lions should be proactive in recruiting more food vendors. That would short-circuit concession conspiracy theories and put the focus back where it belongs — on the racetrack.
It sure would be a shame if the Ellerbe track sits idle for the rest of the race season. Drivers and fans will be disappointed. Charities that benefit from the Lions’ largesse will be shortchanged. And neither Perkins, the Lions Club nor any food vendors will see a dime in admission fees.
Both sides have a lot to lose, and so does the community. Lions leaders and Perkins need to patch things up sooner rather than later.