By Ollie McAteer
Mark Robinson gets frustrated by the stereotype that lawn mower racing is nothing more than a wacky hobby for the eccentric.
But when the prize for first place has been - on one occasion in France - a live duck, what do you expect?
After all, the very fact this motor sport is so outrageous is why I’m standing on what should be the stripiest race track in the world queuing for a go.
I’m one of around 80 who turned up to the bank holiday weekend taster events in Billingshurst, organised by the British Lawn Mower Racing Association (BLMRA).
I’d been giggling to myself most of the journey here.
Lawn mower racing? Really? Hehe.
But my silly grin quickly shifted when I parked up, heard the roar of some dangerous sounding machines and approached the arena.
Wait a minute. These aren’t lawn mowers. Not as I know them anyway. These are office chairs with mammoth engines capable of reaching 50mph I’m told.
My vision of bored farmers wearing dungarees and swigging cider is jolted. Grown men - not boys - don their helmets, goggles and Fox MX onsies. They resemble pros from the extreme sports channel, not Bill from down the road with a souped-up mower.
I fumble my way through a cloud of dust and witness a myriad of men perched on motors with knees up by their heads.
The rugged track tosses drivers violently in all directions as they whizz around this tiny course at breakneck speeds.
Alarmingly, these are standard lawn mower engines, only the governor has been taken out.
BLMRA guidelines strictly forbid any tinkering to increase speed. But it would be unnecessary - these seats with steering wheels absolutely fly.
How there have been no accidents this weekend is beyond me.
Now I’m nervous.
Mark does well to distract me by sharing the club’s history.
He says the BLMRA was spawned in 1973 by a group of blokes at the Cricketers Arms in Wisborough Green. It’s widely regarded as the first club of its kind on the planet.
These men all shared an interest in rallying, but were keen to find a cheaper form of motor sport.
“Legend has it they wanted to race combine harvesters, but realised it was a bit impractical,” explained Mark, who himself has totted up eight years’ racing experience.
His baby is a John Deere. This particular model will go for more than £1,000 to the niche collectors’ market in America.
Generally the idea behind lawn mower racing is that any damage to your vehicle should be cheap and easy to replace.
Mark, however, goes against this trend.
He’ll have quite a mission to replace his bonnet if it gets damaged.
That’s why his face drops when I - the rookie - ask to have a go on it.
But he kindly hands over his pride and joy. Even if he did wince slightly.
Mark waits for the track to empty of mowers before pushing me out onto it - much to the course marshall’s disgust. His job is to invoke the strict BLMRA rules, which probably outline somewhere: ‘Do not let rookie mower loose on the course with no training or any clue of what he/she is doing’.
I have a stab at the accelerator and nearly break my neck.
The mower feels like it could tip at any minute as I negotiate the first bend before hurtling down a bumpy straight at Mach 3.
But when I play back the footage - available on our website - I’m barely moving. I’m mincing in fact.
It looks like I’m cutting grass in a helmet and goggles.