As far as mechanized vehicles go, mopeds, scooters, even remote-control cars have a leg up on lawn mowers in the speed department. Racing these tortoises of transportation is akin to asking Keanu Reeves to do Hamlet.
We had hoped to find the obsessions of an eccentric landscaper behind this denial of inherent limitations. Alas, the Houston Mowdeo is the brainchild of a PR company saddled with the daunting task of luring media attention to a fuel-injected something or other. To our everlasting shame, we took the bait. The doohickey in question apparently performs some vital function in lawn mower engines and Well, you get the idea. (We take some solace in the fact that the flacks bamboozled Home Improvement into constructing a season finale around a race between Tim Allen and Bob Vila on two of their vehicles.)
There is evidence of some, er, grassroots appeal. Mower racing clubs have sprouted up around the country. When Bob "Tiny" Frennesson of Katy discovered the sport, he was a "corner worker," someone who runs out on a racetrack to help drivers out of their crashed cars. Many of his competitors once raced snowmobiles, boats and motorcycles. "They're all stepping down, and I'm stepping up," he says. He knew he'd never be able to afford racing cars; lawn mowers gave him the chance to get behind the wheel.
Jack "Turf Shark" Laskey of Houston spent only $200 upgrading his speedster. Mowers are designed to travel eight miles per hour, but a little fiddling can increase their speed to 35mph or more. "It's a thrill if it holds together," Laskey says. The amount of modification determines the rider's racing class; "stock" racers just have their blades removed.
But affordability isn't the only cheap thrill one gets with a John Deere between his legs. "When you're going 30 miles per hour on a lawn mower, it feels like you're going 60," says Charles "Mr. Mojangles" Powell of the counterintuitive adrenaline rush. "Build one of these, and you won't even be wanting Viagra."