Lawn mower model Max Gardner shows of one of the machines-in-progress. During races participants must wear helmets, but Cabin Radio is unsure of clothing requirements. James Bambalan/Fort Smith Lawn Mower Racing Association
Lawn mower racing is roaring into Fort Smith.
Once you stop laughing, James Bambalan would like to assure you: this is real.
While Bambalan admits racing lawn mowers is “inherently dangerous,” all machines will have their blades removed prior to racing over mud, gravel, grass – and ice.
He knows of at least six mowers already undergoing enhancements in backyards and garages across town.
Excitement has been building ever since Bambalan’s apprentice, Dustin Nichol, watched a few lawn mower racing videos and pitched the idea to his fellow aircraft maintenance engineers.
“We were instantly sold,” said Bambalan, who has taken a leading role in getting the association off the ground.
Interest in mechanics
While it is unlikely all of the paperwork and insurance will be finalized in time for official races this summer, there are still plans to build community support for the newly formed Fort Smith Lawn Mower Racing Association (FSLMRA for short; although they are open to exploring better acronyms, like the neighbouring Lawn Mower Fanatics Alberta Organization).
Residents may hear them aboard their souped-up mowers during the Canada Day parade; or at an end-of-summer mixer showcasing the new motorsport and just what their machines can do.
These are not your garden-variety lawn mowers. After upgrades, they’ll fall into one of three categories: stock, mod-stock, and modified.
Stock machines are basic mowers minus the blades, enhanced to speed along at 20 mph; mod-stocks have more significant component changes such as upgraded tires, suspensions, or transmissions.
But it’s the modified class where Bambalan said things get the “most dangerous and creative.” The only rule in this final category is that the machine has to look like a lawn mower.
Safety is a top priority – and helmets are required – but the association also wants the sport to be fun and accessible.
Compared to the cost of trucks, side-by-sides, and dirt bikes that are popular in town, he claims investing a few hundred dollars in a lawn mower upgrade is more than affordable.
For this reason, he sees potential in the sport and hopes it sparks interest in small-engine mechanics among youth in the community.
“People don’t know what to do with their old lawn mowers [when they break] and so they buy new ones,” Bambalan explained. “But mechanics can turn them into racing machines.”
The association has identified the town as an ideal location for mower racing to take off as people enjoy motorsports and have money to invest in hobbies.
The terrain also has much to offer: there is a dirt bike track being built that the group hopes to overlap with its own track (because lawn mowers can only go over “roller jumps”, not dirt bike jumps).
In the winter, mower riders plan on racing up and down Four Mile Lake during the annual snowmobile races (with studded tires, of course).
There is even talk of a 12-hour endurance race at the end of each summer – which will likely break all of the machines, giving the mower mechanics something to work on until the ice freezes over.
Numerous local businesses have agreed to supply parts, inspect machines, and sponsor events. Now the details are coming together, the association has turned its attention to opening a clubhouse where members will give their abandoned mowers a second chance at life.