Perhaps the better question is: why not?
The first documented lawn mower race took place in the United Kingdom in 1968. It was called the “Lawn Mower Grand Prix” and its original purpose was to raise money for a charity formed by a cricketer named Ken Higgs. The first race was not around a track, but rather in the form of a half-mile long dash. It was won by a journalist named Roy Allet. If you ask me, there is something darkly comical about a person giving their career to report the facts that benefit the public’s best interest only to be remembered for…winning a lawn mower race.
The inception of a more formalized lawn mower racing league is equally as comical. According to the British Lawn Mower Racing Association’s website, the league was “Dreamt up over a few pints in a West Sussex country pub back in 1973.” The story goes that the group of guys were complaining about the “prohibitive costs” of motorsports when, in some strange epiphanic moment, they realized that they all owned lawn mowers.
It is rather seldom that such a niche sport navigates its way across the pond and gains any sort of momentum. It’s not like, after all, the US is playing much rounders, or shinty or bandy (no I didn’t just make up these names). So perhaps it’s worth asking why this sport (and yes, I am absolutely calling this a sport) was able to do so?
The story goes that Sta-bil, the engine fuel stabilizer company, reportedly imported the sport and sponsored the first race as part of an April Fools’ Day promotional campaign. Subsequently, they founded the US Lawn Mower Racing Association, which is still alive and kicking nearly 50 years after its founding.
It was a rather ingenious marketing campaign. Not only does most every American suburbanite have a lawn mower—lawn mowers, of course, that need their product—but they were able to play on our innate craving of competition and camaraderie. We need things that connect us with other people; we need things that, however silly, give us a sense of purpose.
Sure, some people might deck out their engines and take lawn mower racing seriously. As testament, take the US Lawn Mower Racing Association’s 29-page Rules and Regulations booklet. Or take a peek at perhaps one of the most coveted lawn mower races, where riders compete against each other in a 12 hour (!) endurance race.
But competition aside, lawn mower racing is about more than competition. It’s about community and camaraderie. It’s an outlet for people to come together. It’s about fun.