Grassroots Racing- If it’s got four wheels and a motor…

Over a thousand pounds to prepare hundreds of hours in designing and fabricating the chassis, running gear, engine position, steering and sub-frames. Using an air-cooled  four stroke Honda engine, running on split rim alloys, LED lighting and a Saxo VTS seat.

All sounds very exciting until you tell people it’s a lawnmower!

“Yes a lawnmower, no all cutting gear is removed, it’ll do over 40mph off road.” That was the phrase that I spoke every time someone asked me what I was doing every night in the run up to the BLMRA 12hr Lawnmower race in September.

For four weeks this took over my life, for four weeks I was Eddie Jordan, I even started wearing crap shirts!

The BLMRA 12hr is an endurance race held in Sussex England lasting 12hrs from 7pm to 7am, yes that is through the night. This is an end of season race to celebrate the year long championship, competed by true Lawnmower pro’s who have spent £1000’s and hours of testing and racing.

I won’t bore you to death with details. After pushing mine and my best mates’ marriage to the edge, clocking up bills approaching £1000, we had what we hoped would be a lawnmower that could not only race, but also keep going for 12 hr race.

It’s a simple format qualifying/ practice during the day, then the 12hr race with 35 teams running four different classes of lawnmower each with three drivers.

***

So we arrived with a mower still wet from painting it at 12.30 the night before. I took the Mike Gascoyne approach and the target was to finish!

Halfway through qualifying, we were in the mid pack and only two seconds off the fastest in our class.  Around a 1 mile track, I was pretty happy considering this was the 1st time she had turned a wheel in anger.To save the engine, we called it quits, and settled with ending up 24th out of 35 mowers.

I was to do the 1st stint and the ‘Le-Mans’ start, by the end of the 1st lap I had made it up to 17th , with a fair size crowed cheering us on things were going well. Then, coming out of one of the corners she seemed to be losing power under full throttle (The only throttle option we had).

After getting it into the pits, changing plugs, playing with the regulator and everything else it seemed to spring back to life only to then die again. The result was the big ends had gone and 20 minutes into a 12hr race we were without an engine!

After a lot of begging and asking another team had an engine sitting 12miles away in their shed, a glimmer of hope. The challenge- we had to fit a completely different engine with limited tools. This required rerouting the exhaust, drive train and electrics.

***

By 1am in the morning, a lot of cursing, Red Bull (thank you Red Bull ladies) we had a mower with a new (slightly less powerful) engine. But we were now last and over 30 laps down on the next mower.

We took it in initially 40 minute stints.  Over the next 6 hours, this became a true test of stamina. Nothing could prepare me for the pain of doing 45mph on 11inch wheels, with no suspension over a field. Those who have done endurance go-karting will know bruising, but even that is gentle compared to lawnmower racing.

At times I could not breathe due to the constant winding effect of the bumps on the field, or it would sheer exhaustion meaning forgetting where you were on the track and completely missing the braking point and nearly rolling the mower.

At one point 20 minutes into a stint I was wishing for the sunrise and the chequered flag. At that point I came in and handed over for my co-driver to take over. Luckily I found something to get me through it, but this was not going to be the end of the troubles ahead.

***

By sunrise we were up to 29th. Next door had split the rear axle inside the diff and had to pull out. Two down had done the same twice, but had spares and carried on.

By the last lap Luke, the guy who had acquired to dodgy mower, was driving. We waited for him to come round the last corner so we could cheer with what energy we had left…and waited.

The sinking feeling dropped quicker than the mist around us. Something was wrong, after running round the track we found him upside down with the mower on him and the steering wheel disconnected!

After a serious bodge the wheel was on, but with it slipping on the boss it was virtually un-drivable. I got on the Mower and manhandled it round the rest of the mile long lap veering all over the track. Then on approaching the last straight, sheer dread.

The crowd had invaded the track leaving only a three metre wide valley to drive through, then the throttle stuck open. I was sitting on a lawnmower with no steering doing 40mph into a crowd of people. Luckily we had put some decent caster into the wheels and on full throttle she went virtually straight and the crowed saw the sense to move back after seeing me coming.

***

We had achieved our goal, finished. Yes, with a different engine, but finished no less in 27th with enough information to make a real go at it next year. And bruises in places to embarrassing to mention on this blog.

Planning for 2012 starts now.

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Editor’s Note: Dave Hodges is one of our newest contributors on StartingGrid.org! A Sussex man, I’m already impressed with his taste in motorsport!  Welcome, Dave!

-Davin Sturdivant

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