Lawn Mower Racing – Start ’em Up, Mow ’em Down!
Ladies, gentlemen and kids—start your engines! Welcome to the wild world of lawn mower racing. No, it’s not a contest to see who can mow their grass the fastest. It’s actual racing, on an actual dirt racetrack, with actual lawn mowers. And it’s a popular spectator sport for North Carolina families.
“It’s racing like NASCAR or anything else, just on a smaller scale and a lesser budget,” says Roger Choate, owner of CarQuest in Sparta and an avid lawn mower racer.
It may seem like an odd sight—dozens of lawn mowers lined up at the starting line; drivers in their helmets and racing gear—but these drivers are competitive, even if they are just out there to have a good time. There are classes for every type of mower and driver imaginable—powder puff classes for the women, legends classes for the seniors and juniors classes for the kids. There are classes based on the size of the engine and the speed of the mower. Typically, lawn mower drivers race around an oval dirt track at speeds of 30–40 miles per hour, but some of the more serious racers enter classes where speeds can exceed 80 miles per hour.
“A 60 cubic inch engine is the largest we run in our races, but that’s got close to 100 horsepower,” Choate says. “It all depends on how much you want to spend. We’ve got mowers out there that cost more than $10,000 to $15,000.”
Some racers chose to build their own mowers, some modify store-bought mowers and others take theirs directly from the store to the track. Choate is a member of the Alleghany Mower Racing Association, which is a nonprofit organization that hosts and promotes lawn mower racing and donates the proceeds to various charities. The original idea stemmed from a fundraiser race in an effort to save the Alleghany County Fair in 2000.
“Some of the gearheads were there, and we saw what they were doing and thought, ‘We could do this ourselves,’” Choate says. Choate and other founding members met up with Alleghany County Farm Bureau Member Walt Green, a retired NASCAR official, to get the program started.
“Walt went after some corporate sponsors and really helped build the program from the ground,” Choate says. “Doing this as a nonprofit, that was one of the things that drove Walt to want to do this. He wanted everybody to be able to do this and for the community to benefit from it.” The AMRA continues to race at the Alleghany County Fair each year.
“According to the people at the fair, there wouldn’t be an Alleghany County Fair without lawn mower racing,” Choate says.
In addition to supporting the fair, AMRA also hosts other sanctioned races and donates all the proceeds to charities like local fire departments, Rotary clubs and independent causes. The sanctioning fees they collect go to the charity they are supporting, and the racers get nothing but a trophy and bragging rights. But that doesn’t stop their competitive spirit.
“If you could see the folks out there racing for a trophy, I can’t imagine what they’d be like racing for money,” Choate says.
Last year, the group raised more than $75,000 for charity. Each event usually draws about 250 racers and 1,800–2,500 spectators.
“We’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s all about helping others out,” Choate says. “And we’ll continue to do well if we continue to do it right.”