Ready, set, mow! Lawnmower race bags $100 for Dendron VFD

Published 3:08 pm Monday, May 13, 2024

Joey Hartley, a computer analyst by day, loves getting his hands dirty in his off hours.

The Surry County resident grew up working on small mechanical projects and going “mudding,” or racing an all-terrain vehicle across a wet field or other muddy area in hopes of a bumpy ride and dirt splattering everywhere.

Racing lawnmowers, he’s discovered, isn’t all that different. They’re just smaller, slower and lack safety restraints, which is why everyone wears a helmet.

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This is Hartley’s third year competing in “Mow Time Racing,” an off-road motorsport event hosted at a racetrack built by Cole Cox at his family’s farm in Waverly, 2½ miles southwest of the Surry-Sussex county line.

“The mowers don’t go all that fast, maybe 25 mph top speed,” Hartley said. “But it’s a mower 100%, no suspension or ATV-style upgrades allowed. Basically, drop the deck, change the tires, add a throttle pedal and do what’s called a pulley swap. That’s what makes it go faster.”

Some of the mowers themselves have names. There’s “Bad Mowjo,” the “Sod Father” and Hartley’s “Mow Diggity.”

Cox built the track and hosted the inaugural race in 2022 for his father, Randall, who served as announcer for this year’s May 4 race.

“Honestly, it started with (Cole) running across something similar on YouTube,” Randall said. “He showed it to me and I agreed that it looked fun. We started planning the first race right away and started hunting for lawn mowers for him and my wife, Jen, to race. The first race was a hit and the ideas and plans exploded from there.”

Mow Time hosts races in two divisions, a “stock” class for mowers that lack pulley swap speed enhancements, and a modified class in which any and all modifications are fair game.

Additional races are tentatively scheduled for June 29 and Aug. 10, depending on the weather. The May 4 event was originally planned for March 9 but rained out.

Each race is free to enter or watch.

On-site sales of food benefit volunteer fire departments and other first responders. The Dendron, Wakefield and Waverly volunteer fire departments, and Waverly Rescue Squad, will each receive a $100 donation from the May 4 proceeds.

Participants and spectators come from all over, including some from out of state, but most are from the Surry, Sussex and Southampton County area, said Hartley, who lives in Dendron about a 10-minute drive from the Cox farm.

Racers compete in their respective divisions in three events. There’s a newly added “sand drag” in which competitors speed across a sand-filled section of trail, filling the air with dust and the smell of gasoline. There’s also an obstacle course and the original “mud drag” where racers attempt to traverse bog-like conditions.

Attempt is the key word, as some have been known to get stuck and send mud flying as their wheels spin fruitlessly. When that happens, spectators step in to try to push them along.

“Race is an interesting thing to call it, especially that first one,” Hartley said. “None of us knew what to expect, and everyone kinda took a different approach to what was ‘best.’ I think only three or four mowers managed to finish that first one.”

The races are open to all ages, including teenagers, provided their parents or guardians sign a liability waiver.

“I’ve really come to enjoy helping others get their mowers race-ready,” Hartley said. “It’s not about winning, but community.”