One of those sounds of a long hot summer is the drone of a lawn mower strimming somewhere nearby but in July the whole air in specific Sussex villages one can hear even more but no grass is cut!
One man went to mow…
It was 1973 when down the Cricketer’s Arms in Wisborough Green, West Sussex over some drinks a discussion of a new motor sport was arisen. The man starting this conversation was one Jim Gavin, he was involved with rallying and bemoaned the influence of sponsorship. He clearly was not keen on it and wanted to create a sport which was both a motorsport, was not expensive, did not need sponsorship and could be accessible to everyone – but what could it be. It is said that they looked across the village green and saw a groundsman mowing a cricket pitch. They the realised that everyone had a mower in their shed and so they thought let us move them!
The first event was on Murphy’s field and 80 mowers turned up! The British Lawnmower Racing Association record on their website:
“The main objectives were and still are, no sponsorship, no commercialism, no cash prizes and no modifying of engines. The idea being, it would keep costs down and resulted in lawnmower racing being described by Motor Sport News as “the cheapest form of motorsport in the U.K.” The BLMRA still sticks to its origins as a non-profit making organization, any profits are given to charities or good causes.
Ready steady mow
The lawnmowing race rather grasped the zeitgeist locally and beyond as noted:
“Lawn Mower Racing takes place all over the country from Wales to Norfolk and Yorkshire to Sussex, appearing at Country Shows, Fayres and Steam Rallies. We generally start racing in May through to October, incorporating The British Championship. We also have The World Championships, The British Grand Prix, The Endurance Championship and the most famous of all, The 12 Hour Endurance Race.”
Not only that but the competition has not been short at attracting fame and despite the tongue firmly in the check genuine racers and even film stars have been involved:
“Over the years lawn mower racing has attracted motor racing legends and celebrities. Sir Stirling Moss has won both our British Grand Prix and our annual 12-Hour Race. Derek Bell, five times Le Mans winner and twice World Sports Car Champion, has won our 12 Hour twice and one of those was with Stirling. The actor Oliver Reed, who lived locally, regularly entered a team. We also feature in the Guinness Book of Records with the fastest mower over a set distance and the longest distance travelled in 12 hours. Other famous names who have been seen in the paddock are Murray Walker, Alan deCadenet, John Barnard (Ferrari F1 designer), Phil Tuffnell, Jason Gillespie, Chris Evans, Guy Martin and Karl Harris (British Super Bike riders), John Hindhaugh (Radio Le Mans commentator).”
Not letting the grass grow beneath their feet
Lawn mowers vary of course and we are not in the main talking the handheld ones we are talking about the large petrol monsters which parade up and down those large gardens of the country. Having said this the organisation notes:
“Drivers raced around the course in one of three vehicle choices – a traditional push mower fitted with an added seat, a horse-and-cart-like lawnmower set-up or a more comfortable, sit-down grass cutter.”
As such there is plenty of opportunity to race them. In 2014 The Express newspaper noted that:
“Rattling around the quarter mile-long course, the racers topped speeds of 18miles per hour.”
With racer called Christopher Plummer explaining that:
“If you’ve got spinal problems, then it’s not a good idea, the wheel hits your knees all the time so you wear knee pads and then the banging, it’s just mad!”
The article goes on to speak to organiser John Lowdell about as it called ‘about winning the fierce, grass-based competition’ organiser John Lowdell said:
“I think there is a certain amount of kudos. People do like to say I am the current world champion. It takes more effort to win the British Championship because that takes place over the whole season, whereas the world championship is one meeting – but I think in terms of what people actually want, they want to be able to say they are the World Champion definitely”.
Well I was slightly hesitant of attending this event being I have very little affinity for motor racing at the best of time. However, it is was clear that this was an enjoyable event for all the family but taken quite seriously. The air was thick in petrol fumes and it rung with the distinctive buzz of the motor. However, despite all the mower one could state the grass didn’t look very good indeed it looked more of a mud bath!
It is reassuring that over the years the event has remained true to its origins:
“Unfortunately the British Lawn Mower Racing Association (BLMRA) does not offer any prize money or medals, so racers have to be satisfied with only the bragging rights of their John Deere driving.”
You could say its remained loyal to its grass roots!