All the familiar sights and sounds of a drag race are there: the thrum of the engine, the eager hoots from the sidelined crowd, whirling tires kicking up dust as they rip towards the finish line.
These riders aren’t whizzing by on souped up sports cars, though. They’re on ride-on-top lawnmowers, everything from standard stock mowers putting along (though, based on the crowd’s excitement, you would never guess) to expertly modified machines tearing down the track at 40 mph.
It’s a way for the Thunder Valley Mower Racing club out of Lincolnville to satisfy its need for speed — and it has become something of a local phenomenon in doing so.
Mainers are no strangers to racing weird and wonderful homemade crafts, from lobster boats to carved pumpkin canoes. Mowers fall into that same quirky spirit, but with an extra level of accessibility. Many Mainers already have mowers — some may even use them for work — so drag racing them on the weekends is a perfect way to use what you already have to let off some steam.
“It’s cheap, fun entertainment,” said Aaron Boetsch, president of the Thunder Valley Mower Racing club. “You don’t have to have a lot of money invested. Guys that have lawn care businesses can mow on Friday, unload Saturday and compete.”
Boetsch started Thunder Valley Mower Racing after he left the army in 2010. He was bored at home and browsing the web when he came across lawn mower drag racing videos from the Midwest. Inspired, he and a couple of friends pulled their mowers out of their garages and started racing in Boetsch’s dad’s backyard.
“We first started out with all the local guys, just word of mouth,” Boetsch said. “People kept coming to watch us and started to bring [their own mowers].”
Between the crowds and the new riders, Thunder Valley Mower Racing soon outgrew its backyard track. Boetsch started looking for local sponsors that would throw them a couple hundred bucks for T-shirts and other merchandise and for larger venues to hold their mower races.
Thunder Valley Mower Racing started holding races at the Union Fair, and renting the fairgrounds’s track when the fair wasn’t taking place. Last year, Boetsch said the group had three races at the Union Fair with between 300 to 400 spectators.
“That’s a huge number of people to show up for a thing like that,” Boetsch said.
The equipment has evolved, too. Boetsch and his friends may have started by racing run-of-the-mill stock lawn mowers, but now, Thunder Valley Mower Racing has different classes for souped-up mowers, everything from small modifications to the “Outlaw Class,” where even the engine can be replaced.
Of course, they have implemented safety measures along the way too, like requiring helmets and closed-toed shoes and safety tethers attached to the mowers’ kill switches.
Aside from fairs, Thunder Valley Mower Racing has also held races on frozen ponds and for the past couple of years has had regular events at Threshers Brewing Co. in Searsmont.
“Every time we mention [the races], it brings a smile to people’s faces,” brewery owner Nicole Bendston said. “It’s just kind of different and light-hearted and it sounds kind of funny.”
While Bendston said that there are regulars who seek the event, she sees new faces every time they host a mower race, too.
“During the summer, out-of-state people come to the show and they’re like, ‘Oh my god I’ve never seen anything like this,’” Boetsch said.
Social media has allowed the group to reach more members and followers. Briar Lyons is the secretary of Thunder Valley Mower Racing, which has more than 800 members in its Facebook group.
Boetsch also credits members like Neil Greenleaf with the rise in the group’s popularity. Greenleaf is a YouTuber with over 100,000 subscribers on his channel, RedneckComputerGeek, where for over a decade he has been repairing, restoring and modifying mowers into ATVs and the like. He started racing with Thunder Valley Mower Racing two years ago.
Greenleaf started a channel specifically for mower races called RCG Racing, which has almost 3,000 subscribers.
Boetsch hopes that the group will continue to grow, and said that they are always looking for new members — just show up to a meeting, join the Facebook group, read the rules and get your mower ready.
“We actually want people to bring their own mowers out and have fun with us,” Boetsch said. “We’re not a traveling circus that’s putting on a show. We want more people to get involved.”