You can find it in most Heartland states, where the dedicated meet to test their skill on the track and under the hood. Only the method of transportation is a little different...
It's lawnmower racing, and it's like nothing you've seen or experienced before!
I can hear the doubt in your head, "C'mon, I've been on my lawnmower, I've driven it around! It isn't that fast!"
Well, no, it's isn't. Not yet at least.
The USLMRA, (the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association) and its STA-BIL® Lawn Mower Racing Series are the largest organization for lawnmower racers to connect with. They have local chapters that put on events regularly at many purpose built tracks across the nation.
I like to think I'm a decent authority on lawnmower racing. I participated in the sport from 2001 through 2006, and only quit when I wasn't sure my body could handle another wreck.
Yes, accidents do happen on the track, but they are pretty rare. The more important thing to realize is that this is real: It's fast and full of non-stop action.
We're talking open wheel racing inches from each other, going two or three wide into a corner, holding on to the throttle just to grab it down the next straightaway.
I also worked within the organization, helping with webmaster services for the USLMRA. My father was the President of the Illinois Chapter of USLMRA for many years. We went to a ton of races and built many lawnmowers over our years.
In 2002, I was #1 in the nation in my class. This lead to coverage in 44 newspapers, three TV shows, two documentaries, and one video game. Yes, this is one of the highlights of my life here folks, not many people can say they've been in a video game!
Still, what's the best part of lawnmower racing? One simple fact:
Anyone can do it!
Yep! It's not that hard to get into lawnmower racing. First thing you do is download a copy of the rule book from the USLMRA's website. Read it a few times until you get a feel for what class you want to run in. This is probably the easiest part.
Once you have the information you need, you can find a lawnmower - the cheaper the better - and see what modifications you want to make to it that follow the class you are looking to race in.
It's as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be
You can run in the lower classes, or challenge yourself to race in the much higher classes, but be forewarned! The higher the class you go, the tougher the competition becomes.
When I was running in the highest class I was in (BP), I had a lot of money invested in my mower. I was running a custom cam, aluminum flywheel, front and rear hydraulic brakes, custom proportioning valves for the brakes, and special fuel pumps. These were not cheap!
But the class I was #1 in? That was basically a stock mower with a few very minor modifications, and most of the changes were cosmetic! In the IMOW class there wasn't much you could change, so it was more a driver's class because all the mowers were running basically the same thing.
The pits are the place to be!
Of course, the pits are where all the action is, before, during and after the races.
The camaraderie is evident between almost every racer. You'll find competitors in the same class helping each other get their mower up and running so that they could race each other.
As the saying goes, "I'd rather beat you on the track, than in the pits." We all wanted a good race; that's why we came to the track in the first place!
We don't do it for the money.
Last but not least, the one thing that nobody knows about lawnmower racing is this: No one's in it for the fame or money.
As a matter of fact, there is no money in lawnmower racing unless you get extremely lucky and get a sponsorship. Trophies are the highlight of the winnings, and there usually isn't much else.
Even then the sponsorship money isn't a guarantee, and it's doesn't entirely pay for the racing. If I put together all the money I got from sponsors, and then subtracted everything I spent on lawnmower racing, I would be in the negative, probably somewhere in the ballpark of tens of thousands of dollars.
While all this is true, you still may be wondering why anyone would do this. Other than "How quick could you mow my lawn?" the "Why?" questions is the one asked the most. And for the record, I couldn't mow your lawn at all. There are no blades under a lawnmower racer, but I could dig a couple ruts in your lawn doing donuts.
Why did I do it? I say the same thing every time I'm asked. Being out on the track, with my friends, was an amazing experience. I wouldn't give it up for anything. Despite the pain I went through when I took a tumble off my mower and got hauled away by an ambulance, or when I watched my friends do the same, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. This was a huge part of my life for so long, it helped shape who I am today.
I highly recommend that you go out and catch a race some time. Check the calendar on the USLMRA website and see if there's anything close to you.
It's something you need to experience for yourself, and you might just get the bug to go out and give it a try.
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