Back in August, I had a chance to work on another personal project, this time documenting and creating portraits of lawn mower racers competing at the United States Lawn Mower Association’s National Race at Bowles’ Farm in Clements, MD. The story really starts 2 years before when I was driving home from covering collegiate sailing at St. Mary’s, MD and saw this billboard surrounded by cornfields saying simply, “Lawn Mower Racing, first weekend of August.” Immediately I pulled out the phone, marked the location the best I could and sent myself an email to follow-up on this to explore and experience. I was intrigued and I don’t know how you couldn’t be as a living, breathing person in what this might be.
Growing up in the South, there’s always these niche cultural sports/events/things and I was fortunate to go push myself to go experience or document these things as I found them. After some basic research I found it, but the only problem was Em’s oldest sister was getting married that weekend, so it hit the list of possible projects in the future. As the schedule came out for the whole series (they race almost every weekend around the country), I put it on my calendar. As it got closer into July I called up Bruce Kauffman, also known as Mr. Mow-It-All and talked with him about the project and was granted access to the event. For those of you who have been following me on Instagram, we’ve been working on the back bathroom, also affectionally known as “the outhouse.” About two weeks before the race weekend, Em and I have a conversation that goes like this:
Em – “What is this lawn mower racing thing on your calendar? Who’s the client?”
Me – “It’s exactly what it says it is, lawn mowers racing each other; I’m the client. Should be awesome!”
Em – “My parents are coming down to work on the outhouse, can this be moved or how are we going to do this? Why do you need to shoot this?”
Me – “It’s been on the calendar since January and I already got access and told them I’m coming, I can’t bail now. I’m planning on using this for the website and possibly a special mailer out to people next year.”
After some discussion, it ended up working out perfectly. We’d start working on the house at 7am and I’d work until 11am or so, get in the car and drive 2 hours south to shoot. I’d shoot until it was over, around 11pm, and then drive back. It was exhausting, but also an adrenaline rush to make the schedule work and shoot the project. After seeing the images, I’m so happy Em and I could figure out a happy balance to do this project.
Mr. Mow-It-All gave me a bit of the run down about the weekend, but I was still flying blind and had no idea what to expect. Fortunately the location and weather were picturesque and couldn’t be better. Everyone was awesome, friendly and open to letting me hang out, document and shoot portraits for the two days. People came from all over the East Coast and Midwest, from Michigan, to South Carolina, to New Hampshire. The racers ranged in age from 14 to 73 and in some divisions youth competed against adults. It was a $10 entrance to raise money for charity and all your regular fried foods to pair with $3 Bud heavy, Bud light, Michelob and Miller. I think the coolest part is people are racing for a plaque, there is no prize money, only pride.
I setup the studio on pit road, which was in front of possibly my favorite background ever – cornfields and blue sky. Out of 80 racers we shot 30 portraits, in between the 16 hours+ of racing over the two days.
Here’s a few of my favorites from the project. You can find the whole project on my website – www.ebrianschneider.com/ready-set-mow. Let me know if you want to be on the mailing list when this hits mailboxes in 2016.