What do you do without demolition derbies? Race lawn tractors, of course.
Photos and story by Casey Lessard
Most people don’t get a rush of adrenaline from hopping on a lawnmower, so it’s easy to be surprised by the idea of challenging a few friends to a lawnmower race. It’s something a group of guys in Thedford thought would be a good alternative to the demolition derbies so often seen at local fairs. “We couldn’t get the insurance or location for a demolition derby,” says Rob Anderson, president of the Thedford Spirit Club. “Four or five of us decided to get a bunch of guys together and make some lawnmowers go fast.” The first race was at Thedford Funion Days two years ago, and the feedback was positive. “There was a good crowd,” Anderson says. “Everyone seemed to like it, cheering for all the local racers.” It was a novel idea to the Thedford gang, but they soon discovered it was not a new one. A town in Indiana has been running an annual lawnmower race since 1963. There are clubs across the United States and in the United Kingdom, and the Thedford group has been active in forming Western Ontario Outlaws (//www.westernontariooutlaws.com), which now has 60+ members ranging in ages from six to 61. “I try to tell people what we do, and they think I’m a redneck,” says Brittnee Kerr, whose family is actively involved, including her five-year-old son who is hoping to start racing next year. “He saw his uncle do it and saw him going fast. Now he’s got fuel in his blood.” Kerr doesn’t race herself, and so far there are only a few female racers including one woman and several girls. But the sport draws a diverse crowd of men and women. “Speed,” says outlaw class racer Rob Arnel, is the attraction to driving one of Thedford’s 14 tractors. “It’s like a go-kart with a lawnmower motor in it.” “It’s exciting,” says racer Shane Ross of Thedford. “Just another sport to get together with friends and have fun. And you get trophies.” The group travels together to venues around the province, and tends to race the same people each week. Not to say that each week is the same, though. “You never know what you’re going to find for a track,” Anderson says. “We raced today (Sunday) on grass, so it was a bumpy track. It brings the different driving styles out.” Regardless of the conditions, safety is always a concern because the riders ride roll-cage free lawnmowers packing up to 22 horsepower; the outlaw class tractors even use racing fuel. Tractors are fitted with safety equipment to kill the engine if a rider falls off, and riders have plenty of protective gear. Luckily, organizers realized from the beginning that the best way to keep riders safe is to remove the mower blades. “We’re always changing our safety rules,” Anderson says, “and we are 100 times safer than when we started. “(Lawnmower racing) has all the same aspects as racing a car, say at Delaware. It has the build and set up, the thrill of racing and the adrenaline. It’s more than just putting a lawnmower out and going around a track.” “Everyone laughs and thinks it’s crazy,” says Brittnee Kerr, “and then they come and see what it’s about.”