“Everyone’s got the same amount of bottle. When it comes to a one-man corner there will be four guys going for it, and no-one backs down.” Iain Hammerton, freshly battered and bruised from his first few laps, talks through the reality of Lawnmower Racing.
Now If I say lawnmower racing you probably wouldn't think of drivers spinning out, crashing and even rolling off the track in a bid to win. Lawnmower racing is a real endurance and adrenaline sport. It’s a bringer of broken bones and sleep deprivation. The 12 hour race happens overnight, from 8pm until 8am, non-stop. “It’s literally just for a laugh, that’s the only reason I do it”. Iain is one of two drivers for mower no. 42 - team 'Ballsdeep'. “It’s massively competitive but no-one hides anything like with Formula 1 - there’s loads of camaraderie”.
The mowers are like tiny rugged go-karts. Compact and nimble, it’s impressive most of them last the full 12 hours of the race. The fastest get up to 50mph. 50 off-road in the dark and only six inches off the ground whilst sitting on a tiny frame, with nothing but a crash helmet, hurtling round hairpin bends at 2am - these drivers have balls.
Each driver’s stint is all dependent on fuel. The official rules say you can only have a 4.5 litre tank, so the number of laps you can get out of one tank is vital strategy. “It completely depends how you drive, obviously the more aggressively you drive the shorter the fuel lasts - generally about half an hour [to] 45 mins. If you’re really really going for it, sometimes you can drain it in 20 mins.”
The rules also state only a certain range of engine capacities are allowed, “It has to be unmodified, but you’re allowed to change the gearing and the exhaust systems, so it’s kind of a level ground.”
Standing in the pits you see teams of families and friends all pulling together. The pop up tents are full of tools, old sofas, spare parts and cans of fuel. People are laughing and joking amongst a few anxious faces either peering out onto the track or at a broken engine.
It’s probably a good idea to get a generous helping of sleep before this kind of race, but Iain’s engine blew the day before meaning he had to work right up till the morning of the race to swap it out, “Yeah, I haven’t slept really, I probably won't until Sunday. On Sunday everyone’s so mellow because they’re so tired you know, like zombies.”
Other than dealing with exhaustion, the biggest challenge facing the drivers is the track, but not for any typical reason; “What’s mad, but really cool at the same time, is that the track is constantly changing. So in a driver change - say you’ve got two hours between you, it will have completely changed. You go out and think ‘oh there’s a bump here’ and there isn’t one.” The mowers are tearing round the soft ground at such a speed you can see clumps of earth flying off the back wheels. The undulating ground means a harsh ride, especially with no suspension.
I asked Iain what his one piece of advice was to anyone wanting to start; “Just come down, have a word and people give you hints and tips, talk to the committee, everyone’s really friendly, It’s a good club atmosphere.”
Even to watch, lawnmower racing is nail-biting excitement. It’s true spectator sport. The track layout means everyone can find a spot to watch the action whilst munching on hot dogs and burgers. There are even celebrity guests present - this year Jodie Kidd started the race. Now in America and growing in popularity, Lawnmower racing is fast becoming the motorsport for everyone. But there’s one thing for sure - its not until you see it for yourself that you discover what other motorsports have been leaving you without.
Words - Tom Aiton // Photography - Tom Duke & Tom Aiton