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Mowing down the competition

Rashon Lea of Greensboro, North Carolina, drives a lawn mower along historic Route 66 with teammate Stephen Zampieri of Arvada, Colorado, heading east toward Albuquerque as they compete in a new reality show called “The Great Grass Race.”

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Six teams.

A 3,000-mile cross country race.

All completed on Craftsman T110 lawn mowers.

Yes – riding mowers that top out at 5.5 mph.

This is what contestants on “The Great Grass Race” will endure during a monthslong journey across the country.

It’s been a handful of days since the teams entered New Mexico. On Thursday, the teams departed Laguna Pueblo en route to Albuquerque.

Six teams kicked off on July 9 in Los Angeles. During the course of the journey, the race has narrowed to five.

Contestants of the reality show “The Great Grass Race” stand ready at the Route 66 Travel Center before they leave to head toward Albuquerque. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The very low-speed race can be viewed online at Menace Vision’s site, watch.menacevision.com.

The show is the brainchild of Denis Oliver, a native of Neuville-les-Dames in France.

“I wanted a show that everyone could relate to while also forcing people, including strangers, to work together toward a common objective,” Oliver said while stopped in New Mexico. “This long lawn mower ride to New York is a metaphor for our longing to bridge the tremendous distance we feel between each other right now.”

Oliver got the inspiration for the three-month race while watching “The Straight Story,” a David Lynch-directed drama about Alvin Straight, a World War II veteran who travels by lawn mower across Iowa and Wisconsin to visit his dying, estranged brother.

“Mr. Straight can’t qualify for a driver’s license, so he does the trip however he can – like the Argentine man who circumvented a coronavirus quarantine by sailing for 85 days to visit his dying father,” Oliver said. “We have super-fast cars slumbering in the garage with dying batteries as we lament that we can’t visit our loved ones. But the human spirit can triumph over all things.”

Of course, there are rules that the contestants must abide by.

Contestants are paired and each team must navigate through the country – their cutting blades lifted – choosing their own route to a destination that will be provided by the producer.

Contestants ask ordinary nonproduction people they meet along the route for assistance.

Each is allowed to ask people they meet to mow their lawn in exchange for food, gas, oil, shelter or any other assistance. Contestants may propose other services for which they have a particular skill such as cooking, cleaning, playing music or any other form of art.

Oliver says the contestants are allowed to receive food, water, gas, oil or repairs, without providing anything in exchange, offered by fans or other people they meet along the way. Each team will receive at least $12,000, and the winning team could get up to $100,000 depending on points earned.

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Katie Knight of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, drives a lawn mower with teammate Tiffany Gill of Huntington Beach, California, in the trailer along historic Route 66 heading east toward Albuquerque. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Creating a bond

Clinton Brand, 22, is enjoying his time on the road.

The Californian had only visited Reno, Nevada, and Pensacola, Florida, prior to starting this journey.

“This has its struggles,” Brand says. “I’m surrounded by great people who have become great friends.”

Prior to the show, Brand was homeless with his grandfather in Paso Robles, California.

A contestant of “The Great Grass Race” has some “dog gone repellent” – some tempting crackers to toss to canines – attached to the lawn mower. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“We were living out of his truck and we’d get a motel now and then as we had money,” he said. “It was challenging. I wanted a change so I looked online and saw the call for the show. I applied and got called a few days later. This has changed my life because I’m learning so much about myself.”

Being part of the show has renewed Brand’s faith in humanity.

“People have been so giving,” Brand said. “They’ve reached out and helped with food, water, shelter. It’s humbling to see people coming together to cheer us on. I had a rough childhood and this restores my view on people. They’ve been so generous.”

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