Cutting Edge Racing
by Lisa De Silva
It’s race day – a spectacular sight is in front of the crowd who are pumped with adrenalin, the air is thick with competitive tension as the drivers take their place on the starting grid. Get ready. Get set, Mow!
Welcome to the entertaining and convivial world of lawn mower racing. With all the spills and thrills of any motorsport, this is grassroots racing in its purest form. In line with many good ideas, the notion of racing lawn mowers was first dreamt up by a group of friends over a drink down the pub back in 1973.
“Our founder, Jim Gavin had just come back from an epic rally from London to Sydney and was bemoaning the expense involved in motorsports. As the beer flowed, they started thinking about ways to make it cheaper and easier for people to get involved. Then they looked up and happened to see the ground keeper mowing the local cricket pitch and Jim shouted out, Let’s race ‘em, and that’s how the idea first took hold,” explains Peter Hammerton, President of the British Lawn Mower Racing Association (BLMRA).
Shortly after that fateful day in the pub, Jim organised the first Lawn Mower Grand Prix, which was held on the very field that had inspired the idea. “To be honest, that was the first and last time we ever raced there,” laughs Peter. “We made quite a mess!”
Under Jim’s leadership the sport began to take off and today, lawn mower racing has spread throughout the UK, Europe and the United States, establishing itself as a professionally-run, competitive and fun pursuit. Described as the “cheapest form of motorsport,” mower racing has remained true to its aim of making motorsport available to more of the population. As a consequence of this, the sport involves no sponsorship, no commercialism, no cash prizes and no engine modification.
“We’re really strict about keeping the sport non-commercial,” Peter tells me. “We don’t have cash prizes, just trophies which keeps the competition friendly. We’re also big on rules and regulations, first and foremost from a safety and originality point of view and secondly, to keep everyone on a level playing field. The few modifications allowed have to be checked by our technical team and all racing mowers still have to function as lawn mowers. That means the racing is all about driver skill.”
There are four racing groups: Group 1 involves running behind a basic cylinder domestic mower; Group 2 includes roller driven cylinder mowers of the type commonly used to prepare cricket pitches, modified for racing with a towed seat; Group 3 is for domestic garden ride-on mowers and Group 4 is for wheel-driven lawn tractors. In all cases, the machines need to be checked by the race committee’s technical team to ensure that any modifications comply with the rules.
As the popularity of mower racing has grown, new clubs have been established nationwide and the sport is now found all over the country from Sussex to the North of England and West Country. The season runs from May to October and incorporates a number of events including the British Championship, British Grand Prix and one of the first and most famous races, the 12 Hour Endurance Race, which starts at 8pm on a summer’s evening, finishing at 8am the following morning, with teams of three drivers.
Over the years, celebrities such as Sir Stirling Moss, Derek Bell, and Guy Martin have all tried their hand at this cult sport, with Murray Walker even commentating. Its popularity has spread to Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, France and Finland, where there’s an annual ice race. In the US, lawn mower racing has just celebrated its 25th anniversary with members of the BLMRA crossing the pond for a celebratory race meeting.
Peter took over as president of the BLMRA last year after Jim retired, having first got involved in racing as a mechanic during the first 12 Hour Endurance Race in 1976. “I’ve never actually raced a mower myself, but the sport has been my life’s hobby. The social side is fun and everyone’s really friendly. We’ve all made friends through racing and there’s even been a few marriages.”
All those involved in the sport are volunteers and as a non-profit making organisation, any profits are donated to local charities. Lawn mower racing can often be seen at county shows and steam rallies and if it’s something that you’d like to get involved in, the association welcomes new members. “For anyone thinking about racing themselves, I’d say come along to one of our events,” says Peter. “We’re a really friendly bunch and people are more than happy to chat and offer advice, so have a walk around the pits, watch the racing and decide which racing group you’re interested in. Once you’ve joined the association and have a machine, you’re all set to go.”
Even if the actual racing is not for you, there’s plenty of opportunity to get involved as a marshal or lap-keeper and Peter has a special request from any landowners who may wish to host an event. “If anyone out there has a field of around 10-15 acres that they intend to plough at the end of the year, we’d love to use it as a race venue and any profits generated would be donated to a charity of their choice.”
Unconventional and eccentric but lots of fun, it beats mowing the lawn any day.