Lawn Mower Races: Cutting-Edge Excitement

The grand marshal of the Thunder Valley Lawn Mower Races, Maine. Image credit: Mark Haskell, Courier-Gazette

Apologies for the bad pun in the title, but I wanted to let you know that you truly haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed this phenomenon. Lawn mower races happen all across America, from Idaho to Maine. I received my first taste in late summer when I meandered into Cotton, a small town in northern Minnesota.

Grown men (and in other places, women) clamber aboard riding lawn mowers that they have modified for racing. In Cotton, the circular racing track was an actual lawn situated behind what used to be the town’s high school but is now a community center.

The races are a cultural highlight of the season. Families gather to sit on the grass or on haybales to watch the festivities. Kids eat cotton candy. Some folks even back their jacked-up pickup trucks along the track. Sitting in folding lawn chairs in the cargo bed, they have a prime, elevated view.

Engines rev. The starting gun cracks, and they’re off! The machines tilt as they round the corners, wheels lifting off the ground. The drivers likewise tilt, leaning into the movement. Around and around they buzz, neck and neck. After a few turns around the track, one man’s mower putters out and he pulls into the center, defeated.

Cotton, MN, lawn mower racers lean into the turn.

According to the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association, this quirky form of racing began in the early 1970s – touted as a perfect way to use a machine that many people already have, and to let off steam. It became official when the makers of a fuel stabilizer came up with the idea of using a lawn mower race to promote their product on April Fools’ Day in 1992.

I had no idea this pastime had been around for so long! There’s even such a thing as lawn mower ice racing in winter.

With a wave of a checkered flag, the race ends. The crowd applauds. The winners strut over to claim their prizes and pose for the local newspaper photographer.

In Cotton, racers competed in two events, “modified” and “stock.” I felt culturally enriched for having watched these events. But it all seemed like such a waste. You see, the racing mowers don’t have their blades engaged. All that noise and hype, and in the end, the grass on the track is just as long as before. 🙂

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