Tilling a field is hard work, so it’s hard to believe that there are people who actually do it for sport. However, rototiller racing is actually a thing! The world championship is held every year during the PurpleHull Pea festival in Emerson, Arkansas, where the world’s fastest garden tillers get together to compete for the highly coveted $500 prize.
“There is simply no other event like it,” the PurpleHull website declares. “Unique among motorsports, we like to say it is the highlight of the tiller racing season. ‘Course, to the best of our knowledge, our one-day event is the tiller racing season. Souped-up garden tillers from near and far come to compete in the world’s premier tiller racing event.”
The race begins with one competitor (a.k.a tiller pilot) per lane (200-feet-long), with the referees waiting at the finish line with their eyes on stopwatches. When the starter waves the flag, the racers are off, kicking up a huge cloud of dirt as they go. The fastest tiller is declared the winner.
A regular rototiller is commonly used on a farm to churn the soil and prep it for planting seed. A farmer or gardener walks behind it at a leisurely pace as the blades attached to the gearbox spin through the soil. Most of these regular tillers are powered by 5 to 10 hp gasoline engines.
But the machines used for the rototiller race are modified – the engine, throttle, and blades can be changed in any way the competitors choose, as long as the engine doesn’t produce more than 50 hp. As you can imagine, strolling behind a 50 hp tiller is not a very good idea; competitors need to run in order to keep up with their machines.
The first rototiller racing world championship was first held in 1990. The rules back then were pretty confusing, and that led to the Great Tiller Racing Controversy of 1993. Apparently, racers were going way too fast and they used machines that no longer resembled tillers. The keep things safe and reasonable, the World Tiller Racing Federation was created and a set of clear rules was put in place.
According to the current rule set, racers need to keep their feet on the ground and hands on the rototiller bar at all times. And there’s a three second penalty for being dragged across the finish line or exiting the lane. Also, all the racers must wear shoes, they are forbidden from riding the rototillers and must be in full control of their machines when they cross the finish line.
Video footage shows the race can be really fun to watch, especially when racers who aren’t able to keep up with their machines end up eating dirt! But the event also attracts some serious tilling pilots who are always trying to outdo each other. The current world record belongs to Shane Waller, who tilled 200 ft in just 5.72 seconds.
Photos: PurpleHill Pea Festival/Facebook