Mainers ride bespoke lawnmowers in breweries for fun

All the familiar sights and sounds of a drag race race are there: the roar of the engine, the eager howling of the crowd standing apart, tires whirling that stir up dust as they race towards the finish line.

However, these drivers do not rush past with souped-up sports cars. These are ride-on lawnmowers, everything from standard stick mowers (though you’d never guess from the excitement of the crowd) to expertly modified machines that speed down the track at 40 mph.

It’s a way for Lincolnville’s Thunder Valley Mower Racing Club to meet their need for speed – and it’s become a local phenomenon in the process.

Lawn mower racing with Thunder Valley Mower Racing at Threshers Brewing Co in Searsmont. Credit: Courtesy Neil Greenleaf

Mainers are no strangers to driving weird and wonderful homemade crafts, from lobster boats to carved pumpkin canoes. Mowers fall into the same quirky spirit, but with an added level of accessibility. Many Mainers already have mowers – some even use them for work – so weekend drag racing is a perfect way to use what you already have to blow off some steam.

“This is cheap entertainment that is fun,” said Aaron Boetsch, president of the Thunder Valley Mower Racing Club. “You don’t have to invest a lot of money. Boys who have a lawn care business can mow on Friday, unload on Saturday and take part in competitions. ”

Boetsch started Thunder Valley Mower Racing after leaving the army in 2010. He was bored at home and surfing the internet when he came across lawnmower drag racing videos from the Midwest. Inspired, he and a few friends took their mowers out of the garages and started racing in the backyard of Boetsch’s father.

Lawn mower racing with Thunder Valley Mower Racing at Threshers Brewing Co in Searsmont. Credit: Courtesy Neil Greenleaf

“We started with all the locals first, just word of mouth,” said Boetsch. “People kept coming to watch us and started bringing them with them [their own mowers]. ”

Between the crowds and new drivers, Thunder Valley Mower Racing soon grew out of its backyard track. Boetsch went looking for local sponsors who would throw them a few hundred dollars for t-shirts and other merchandise and larger venues for their mower races.

Thunder Valley Mower Racing began running races at the Union Fair and renting the fairground track when the fair wasn’t happening. Last year, according to Boetsch, the group completed three races at the Union Fair with 300 to 400 spectators.

Lawn mower lawn on ice with Thunder Valley Mower Racing. Credit: Courtesy Neil Greenleaf

“That’s a huge number of people who show up for something like this,” said Boetsch.

The equipment has also evolved. Boetsch and his friends may have started driving ordinary lawnmowers, but now Thunder Valley Mower Racing offers different classes for souped-up mowers, everything from minor modifications to the “outlaw class” where even the engine can be swapped.

Of course, they have also implemented safety measures, such as helmets and closed shoes, as well as seat belts attached to the kill switches on the mowers.

Mowers line up for a race at Threshers Brewing Co. Credit: Courtesy Nicole Bendston

Aside from trade shows, Thunder Valley Mower Racing has also hosted races on frozen ponds and has hosted regular events at Threshers Brewing Co. in Searsmont for the past few years.

“Every time we mention [the races], it puts a smile on people’s faces, ”said brewery owner Nicole Bendston. “It’s just somehow different and carefree and it sounds kind of weird.”

While Bendston said there are regulars out there who seek the event, she also sees new faces every time they host a mower race.

“During the summer, people from abroad come to the show and say, ‘Oh my god, I’ve never seen anything like this before,’” said Boetsch.

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 on its Facebook group.

Boetsch also credits members like Neil Greenleaf for the group’s surge in popularity. Greenleaf is a YouTuber with over 100,000 subscribers on his channel RedneckComputerGeek, where he has been repairing, restoring, and converting mowers into ATVs and the like for over a decade. He started racing with Thunder Valley Mower Racing two years ago.

Greenleaf launched a channel dedicated to mower racing called RCG Racing, which has nearly 3,000 subscribers.

Boetsch hopes the group will keep growing and is always looking for new members – just come to a meeting, join the Facebook group, read the rules and get your mower ready.

“We actually want people to bring their own mowers and have fun with us,” said Boetsch. “We are not a traveling circus that puts on a show. We want more people to get involved. “

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