The Cutting Edge in Lawn Mower Racing

Customized parts for riding mowers make racers competitive in a popular sport.
12 May, 2017
At first, lawn mower racing has a small-town American ring and sounds a little redneck.
It's true that the sport is popular in places like Texas, the northern Great Plains and the Midwest. Yet lawn mower racing – using customized riding mowers with, of course, the blades removed – is popular in countries as diverse as Finland, where they race mowers in the snow, and in New Zealand.

Even the upper crust at the British Lawn Mower Racing Association plan more than a dozen races this year, in Hertfordshire and beyond, that draw contestants from the most urbane of European locales.
In America, the national association claims it all began in 1963 in a small Indiana town that continues the tradition. Today, there are races in most states and even a National Lawn Mower Racing Hall of Fame for the elite riders.

The biggest change over the years, though, involves the technical and mechanical modification of the mowers. Among racers that usually means incorporating a lot of aluminium into riding mowers that began their lives manufactured at the factory with stock engines, wheels and brakes.
Lawn mower racing enthusiasts can spend thousands of dollars on the hobby, and one of the big-ticket items is the engine. Some riders need enough power to reach speeds as high as 120 kilometers per hour, although many races are meant to be family friendly, so they have much lower speed limits – and race organizers, however counterintuitively, will penalize participants for speeding during the official race!

Billet aluminium components are preferred for many of the customized lawn mower parts. In some cases, the entire engine is rebuilt in aluminium, to hold up under the heat, stress and track wear-and-tear. That is what some riders in the Lone Star Mower Racing Association have done in Texas.
Depending on how deep the passion and the pockets of an enthusiast go, the replacements may be more selective. For example, one solution is a billet aluminium flywheel, which is about safety as much as it is speed. The aerospace-grade aluminium replaces a cast iron part for one racer, who wanted to prevent stress fractures that might cause the stock part to explode at speeds it was never designed for.

Billet aluminium replaces other parts too, such as piston rods, to improve durability and performance. The lawn mower racers are just as concerned about light weighting, it seems, as the aviation, rail and automotive industries are – but many of them are in it for the bragging rights and fun.
Local races are usually held at state fairs or annual festivals and support medical charities or community programs. In those cases, the riders are serious about their machines and have upgraded their rigs with new parts, but they can be a little more playful. In one example from Oregon, in America's Pacific Northwest, the county commissioner competes each year on her customized pink lawn mower, wearing a matching pink helmet with tutu and fairy wings. It's all part of Tammy Baney's commitment to raise money and awareness in the fight against cancer.

Lawn mower racers say there is always one question people ask: Do they ever still just cut the grass with their tricked out mowers? Not always, but the answer in many cases is yes – just as soon as they get home to their chores, and put the blade back on.
Banner image: Honda UK/Jalopnik