Competition runs so deep in humankind’s veins that we have learned to harness it. Everywhere you look, new sports pop up just to have one more thing, at which we can best one another. But while some of them are your regular run-of-the-mill competitions, others are… a bit more ludicrous.
For example, since the dawn of time we have had racing in various forms. We have raced cars, horses, dogs, and I am sure somewhere in our history we have tried to race stones. Perhaps deep within our psyche a voice keeps shouting “if it can move, it can race”. Take that ingenuity, add a bored guy mowing his yard, and the birth of lawn mower racing becomes just a matter of time.
Indeed, this peculiar sport has been with us for a while now. Yet most of us do not know much about it. As it turns out, it involves a whole bunch of things that make it that more interesting. I think it is time to leave our chores for a second and hop on to read about lawn mowers. Will you join me?
The heart of lawn mower racing
This sport deserves a place among the most entertaining motor races you can watch. In essence, it involves a bunch of people on a variety of modded mowers racing across different tracks. Usually they are flat off-road surfaces, but things can get more extreme than that. How about a 12-hour lawn mower race through muddy terrain? That surely takes some grit!
To be honest, I knew nothing about the sport until recently. I had heard about it, of course, but for the longest time I thought it was not a serious thing. In my mind it was all about a bunch of dads racing their mowers out of boredom. How wrong was I!
While not the most competitive thing on Earth, lawn mower racing can get vicious. As with any other sport, some people are just eager to win at all costs. They may spend months (or even years) working on their machine to squeeze the last bit of performance out of it. Which is actually one of the sport’s main selling points!
By nature, lawn mower racing is very inclusive. The sport has a fairly low barrier to entry, not to mention that literally anyone can fix up a track in a day or two. All you need is some haystacks, an empty field, and people who would want to mod their mowers a bit (though not always necessary).
And if you want to really compete, you can register with the US Lawn Mower Racing Association and get started. You need to learn how to mod your mower properly, but there are plenty of guides online. This makes it relatively easy for anyone to feel the thrill of the race. That said, modding your mower for a race is not exactly the obvious thing to do. How did it all start then?
The origins of lawn mower racing
If you try to dig out the roots of this sport, you may have some trouble. Depending on who you ask, it originated… everywhere. People in the US have their own story, UK folks can also tell you one, and Australians will want to join the conversation too. But there can only be one beginning, right? Well, sort of.
The earliest records seem to indicate that Americans started it all. The Twelve Mile 500 is an annual lawn mower racing event that began all the way back in 1963. It looked a bit differently from today though.
In the beginning, people did not mod their mowers, they just removed the blades for safety reasons. That meant that the mowers moved with a speed of about 6 mph. Not exactly the most thrilling thing to watch, barely above a turtle race. Our competitive spirit did not disappoint though, and soon the mowers started to get faster.
From that very tradition stem all the US lawn mower races. Currently, there are two associations – for modded mowers and for regular ones. Yet that only tells us about the US side of things. What about other countries?
Lawn mower racing across the globe
The US may technically get the credit for being first with the whole idea, but the UK was not far behind. Folks there had their first officially organized event in 1968. Not much is known about it, aside from the fact that it was a fundraiser of sorts. Did you notice the key phrase though? It was the first “officially organized”. It is entirely possible that the idea originated way before that.
That being said, lawn mower racing became a serious thing there after 1978. Some friends were drinking at a local pub in West Sussex, discussing how the regular guy cannot join a motorsport event. You would need sponsors, training, and years of experience. Or you can just hop on your lawn mower and give it a go. This is when the British Lawn Mower Racing Association was founded.
It is worth noting that the British way of doing things is a bit different. They do not mod the engines, they go without sponsors and they make the entire thing super easy to join, even for casual runs.
Then we get to mower races in Australia. They also date back to 1978. It all started after an argument over alcohol. It seems like booze is the culprit for many of humankind’s competitions. Still, history does not tell us how the squabble snowballed ito a whole sport around the country, but we can imagine it.
Now that we have our history lesson, let us see what makes a race-worthy lawn mower!
All about the machines they race on
In the world of motorsports, there is the concept of “min-maxing”. This refers to optimizing everything to the last detail, so you can get every single bit of performance from your machine. Obviously, this is crucial for the naturally small motors of lawn mowers, yet with some caveats.
Currently, there is no unanimous opinion on which stock lawn mower is best for modifying. Because of that, min-maxing in the mowing world looks a bit different. You cannot simply optimize for speed without accounting for other details. Here are just a few things some people focus on:
- Mower stability – Having a fast lawn mower makes sense. But if it cannot hold its own in sharp turns, what good is it? This is why some folks prefer to make the mower as stable as possible, even if they lose a bit of speed in the process. Since this is not drag racing, they make up for it by not having to slow down as much while turning.
- Handling – The faster the mower goes the harder it is to handle. This relates a bit to stability, but some mowers are just difficult to keep under control when they reach higher speeds. It is recommended that beginners start with a mower with better handling, even if it is not as fast.
- Acceleration – If you want a powerful mower, you would likely go for a gas engine. However, some people are trying hard to mod electric engines, because they have much better acceleration.
With all this info, I bet you are wondering how fast a mower can truly go. Usually, they will not exceed 40 mph, though with some mods they can reach 85 mph. Obviously, this is not recommended, because even the most stable lawn mowers will have trouble at such speeds. This leads me to a very important point!
Some lawn mower modding concerns
While modifying your mower may seem like a fun hobby to try, it is actually not that easy. Even if you can manage the technical stuff, there are many safety concerns. We will go over them, so you can know what people are getting into!
One thing you can see everywhere is to not mod your lawn mower for regular use. If you want to race you need a dedicated machine. It does not make much sense to mow around with 35 mph, unless you are looking for trouble.
Additionally, you should not simply mod the engine on a stock mower. The entire frame has to be altered, and many safety details have to be included. Remember that I mentioned stability? Stock mower frames simply cannot handle the speed. Ultimately, you cannot simply buy it, you need to build a racing lawn mower. Skills like welding will come in handy!
It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the electrics. You would likely have to do some modding there, as it is necessary to have a kill-switch. This is a special switch that turns the vehicle off if you fall from it. Depending on the association there might be additional requirements as well.
Does lawn mower racing sound fun?
I am not the biggest fan of racing sports, unless they involve some interesting details. For example, I find Formula 1 quite boring to watch, unlike dirt racing. This means that lawn mower races are up there for me in terms of interest!
What about you though? Do you find them engaging, or do you think the whole thing is a bit silly? I think the ridiculousness is actually part of the fun. It is competitive enough to have stakes, but still maintain the friendly spirit around it!