BOSTON — The father of the lawn mower, Edward Beard Budding, said in his 1830 patent application that British country gentlemen might find his device "useful" and "amusing."
He was right. But I doubt Mr. Budding had lawn-mower racing in mind.
On any given Saturday - while legions of suburbanites are cutting geometric swaths in their yards (see Page 15) - several dozen grown men and women mount their riding mowers and race each other at fairgrounds, festivals, speedways, and local fund-raisers.
On a small scale, this silliness has been going on for about 30 years in England and pockets of the United States. But in 1992, STA-BIL, maker of a fuel stabilizer, saw mower racing as a promotional gimmick. Eight years later, it is still growing like mushrooms after a gully washer.
This year, Snapper - a mower manufacturer - climbed aboard as a corporate sponsor. And the US Lawn Mower Racing Association (www.letsmow.com) now sanctions 21 events with four racing divisions: Stock (8 m.p.h.), IMOW (Therefore I Am) - 25 m.p.h., Prepared (35 mph), and Factory Experimental (60 m.p.h.).
Oh, yes, I forgot the three Grass Eliminator drag racing groups. And there's the Nashville Network (TNN) cable-TV contract.
Only in America? No, The USLMRA membership of 500 spans the US, Canada, England, Australia, and New Zealand.
Are these folks serious? Not often.
Bruce Kaufman, USLMRA president and self-dubbed Guru of the Grassy Green, says, "a sense of humor is not required to be a participant, but it's strongly suggested."
Here's a grass-roots sport - a term recklessly employed - that taps the love of the goofy, the thrill of the chase, and the desire of lawn owners everywhere to shave a few minutes off a weekly chore.
For the racers, this is purely a hobby. No prize money is offered. "We race for trophies - and bragging rights," says Mr. Kaufman. Any proceeds go to charities.
The 1998 STA-BIL national champion, Bobby Cleveland, rides a Snapper LT1633. He's been blade-running competitively for 23 years. His motto: "Live to mow, mow to live."
This summer, the Locust Grove, Ga., resident heads to England to compete in a 12-hour LeMans-type endurance race in Wisborough Green.
Do any of these folks actually mow their own lawns?
"I don't have time," says Kaufman, "I have a goat."
Somehow, I almost believe him.
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