Last weekend we had the annual 'world famous' 12hrs of Sebring race just a couple of miles away at the Sebring International Raceway. This is a televised event with various classes of cars all on the track at the same time and as a result, it makes for exciting racing with lots of overtaking and not a few incidents. It comes under the heading of the first race of the ALMS season, that's the American LeMans Series to you and me. Good stuff.
Ok moving forward to yesterday and a group of us went a few miles further north to Avon Park to watch some more ALMS racing......only this time it came under the banner of a slightly less well known ALMS - the American Lawn Mower Series.
And rather than an International Raceway, it was held at the wonderfully named Avon Park Mowerplex.
I know. I don't care who you are, that's funny. Lawn mower racing !
This turned out to be racing at its grass roots (ok if you're going to start groaning at these, you'd better stop reading now) and after paying our $5 entry fees and picking out good vantage points on the somewhat ricketty bleachers, we settled down to watch the action and hopefully see lots of overtaking, drifting and drivers cutting each other up.
Groan away, I don't care.
Well we had to wait a while as we got there an hour before the first race was due to start. This gave me plenty of time to take in the impressive track and the first port of call was the starters box.
It may have resembled a glorified pigeon loft on stilts but it served its purpose, letting the racers see the various flags being waved and its open construction allowed the winners of the various races to be presented with the checkered flag so he (or she) could do a lap of honour with it. I'm tellin' ya.....grass roots racing.
At the appointed start time of 6pm we were informed over the PA system (ok a guy with a hand held mic that faded out if he moved more than 20ft from the control box) that things would be delayed as his granddaughter who was to sing the national anthem hadn't turned up yet !
Probably still doing her homework !
It seems that just about any public event here starts with a rendition of the national anthem and this was to be no exception.
We were entertained by the lawnmowers and their riders coming out onto the track for a bit of a practice a few at a time and so when the racing DID start, we'd seen all the competitors already and the novelty factor had passed.
Actually the first race took us all by surprise as by the time we realised it WAS a race and not just a few warm up laps, the checkered flag was waved and it was all over. This was because the mowers only used part of the full course and being small engined machines, they didn't go much faster than your standard lawnmower. No one told us what was going on and so what we thought were a few laps to get the mowers set up for an eventual rolling start....well those not very exciting laps were racing laps !
Even so, the race was won by the mower that was the pace 'car' for the other races so I think that was a bit unfair as it had to have had a souped up engine under the hood. It still looked adorable and the old white bearded guy riding it only added to the comedic effect. Actually they didn't move much faster than in this STILL photo !
The rest of the races were for different classes of mowers (JP, SP, AP, CP, BP etc) and used the full course. These were much more exciting races but given the narrowness of the course, passing was very difficult and usually the mowers simply went round and round in a procession.
There were 2 others teams represented at the races last evening. As well as the local Avon Park mowers, there was a team from the Space Coast Sod Slingers and a NASGRASS (not to be confused with NASCAR which, although an easy mistake to make, is a slightly different association entirely) team from Ft. Myers I think. NASGRASS is the North American Society of Grass Racers and Sod Slingers.
I know you wanted to know that. Educational blog and all that.
A couple of racing machines stood out for me and deserve being singled out with their own photo. One was a brightly coloured mower with the expression "Git R Done" emblazoned on the front. This is the well known catch phrase of comedian Daniel Lawrence Whitney, better known by his stage name, Larry The Cable Guy.
This has a tie in with the other mower I liked as Larry provided the voice of the tow truck "Mater" in the Pixar animated movie Cars and the soon to be released sequel, Cars 2, and this mower was designed to look as much like Mater the tow truck as a mower can be.
Some mowers were pretty fast and would drift impressively around the corners, kicking up plenty of dry dirt in the process.
Before the racing began and at the half time interval, a water truck went around the track several times in an attempt to moisten the bone dry surface for the benefit of drivers and spectators alike.
Given the heat, it didn't help much and all the riders were covered in red dirt by race end.
There was no real need for an interval except to give the concession stand more opportunity to sell food items and it did a roaring trade all evening. There was time for many of the local kids to take part in hand pushed lawn mower racing 3 at a time around the short course and this kept them happy for 30 minutes or so.
By the time the proper racing started up again, darkness had fallen and despite the activation of a few light clusters, it was very hard for action photography.
These next few photos have been heavily edited using Photoshop as originally, they were so dark that details were hard to spot.
After each of these races, prizes were given out to the top 3 and hard as it was to see, this edited photo shows one winner raising up his trophy which is more than we could see with the naked eye. Yes you recognise who it was !
Then we had the IMOW (don't ask) feature race which was by far, the longest race of the evening. However, with 5 laps remaining, mower #46 (Git R Done) was involved in a nasty accident with mower #6 and one rider went over the front of his mower into the safety tire wall.
What followed was very impressive. The race was stopped and stewards, other riders and basically anyone nearby rushed to help. Seconds later the standby rescue vehicle was on the spot and I assume it was manned by medical personnel of some kind.
It was all taking place on the far side of the track and due to the darkness, my zoom lens was unable to get much to focus on. Again this photo has been severely edited to bring up what little detail there was but it shows a driver on the ground and his mower on its side.
We were informed that no one had been hurt and this news was greeted by a round of applause from those of us in the bleachers and those in line at the concession stand.
By now it was clear it would take some time to get the race restarted and to be honest, we'd all had enough and were starving anyway. It was way past supper time and we had a date with a table for 7 at Mi Rancho Mexican restaurant in Sebring so we packed up and left.
On the way to the cars, I put the camera on a fence post and took a 10 sec exposure shot looking back at the track. There were 2 stationery mowers in the foreground (their drivers were still over at the accident location) but I think it shows just how dark it was by then.
All in all it was a good laugh and a good evening out with friends......but once was enough and I'd never want to go again.
Mower racing may have started almost 40 years ago in England but this is one of our sports that I'm happy to have passed on to America. Somehow it seems more 'at home' here and with mowers like Git R Done and Mater taking part, the sport should provide plenty of evenings of family fun for decades to come.
If I could ever adapt my hover mower, I could be onto a winner !