Drag-racing motorcycles made of farm equipment? Summertime snowmobiling? How about tractor-trailer drifting?
Since mankind’s earliest days, the need for speed has always been a powerful force with swiftness of foot granting either survival or death centuries before horses were bridled and motors were conceptualized. But over the years, this adrenaline rush began to morph into something else entirely, as humans began to challenge one another in order to see who was faster.
By the time horses were domesticated all bets were off as to who was fastest, as a man’s legs were no longer the deciding factor, and as the chariot transformed into the motorcar a whole new kind of adrenaline junkie was born. Unlike horses, motorized machines could be built and modified to a driver’s preferences, and as technologies and engineering advancements grew so did the top speeds and the creativity which made it all possible.
But somewhere along the line, something went a bit haywire. A malignant mutation of the motorized mechanics that purists hold dear began to form and bored enthusiasts found new ways of tampering with old ideas. Going in an oval with tarmac beneath you and a pit crew waiting in a paddock isn’t for everyone, and either by coincidence, accident, or defiance, automotive enthusiasts have taken unsuspecting forms of transportation and modified them into some pretty insane styles of racing.
So after poking around on the interweb for a few hours, we’ve come up with seven insanely strange forms of racing that we think would be an absolute blast to watch as a spectator. Granted, you might have to leave the country and sell a kidney in order to attend a few of them, but being an enthusiast sometimes requires sacrifices.
1. Snowmobile Watercross
First held in Grantsburg, Wisconsin back in July of 1977, this obscure form of racing has been held every year since its inception. Originally designed as a challenge to see who could make it 300 feet from the island on Memory Lake to the shore, this oddity has since transformed into a competition where racers compete in both drags and ovals, with an eight-lap championship run capping things off.
Today, over 100 racers compete in various classes, with competitive watercross being run by two main circuits. While the IWA (International Watercross Association) operates mainly in the Midwest, the EWA (Eastern Watercross Association) operates in the Northeast. In a sport like this it’s a “sink or skim” experience, so these snowmobiles often get stripped-down and beefed-up before being unleashed on a lake.
2. Scandinavian Folkrace
Originally of Finnish origin, this rag-tag jab at motoring has become increasingly popular in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, where it continues to grow in popularity during the warmer months of the year. Typically run on gravel or tarmac tracks, this 1.5-mile-long serving of anarchy is filled with crappy cars, crashes, drivers that range from inexperienced teenagers all the way to the elderly, and a top speed that is limited to just 50 miles per hour.
There are multiple heats with usually six cars per heat, and since first place winners receive seven points, second place winners get five points, and third makes due with four, there is some math involved. After all of the heats have been driven, the total score is calculated so that the top six drivers may race in the “A final,” the next six in the “B final,” and so on until the champion of the A final wins the event.
In order to make the race affordable, there is a cap on price, but with a strange catch: Anyone can place a fixed-price bid of $1,000 on someone else’s car, but the buyer is always chosen randomly. Refusing to sell one’s vehicle is grounds for having competition licenses revoked, and this unorthodox approach has thus far eliminated the investment of large amounts of work and/or money into a folkrace car. It is also worth noting that Folkrace is not related to demolition derbies, and that while collisions do happen (a lot), intentionally ramming a competitor is forbidden.
3. Russian Flying Tractor Racing
Meanwhile, over in Mother Russia, more than 30 thousand spectators gather every year to watch a bunch of tractor races at Rostov-on-Don. If mountains of mud, rally-style jumps, fiery arches of death, senior citizen drivers, and gratuitous amounts of farm equipment are your cup of Stoli, then look no further.
After doing some research, we discovered that there’s apparently a heat called the “Viennese Waltz,” where racers must maneuver their tractors like figure skaters in tandem to the music of Johann Strauss. The three best racers at the end of the day receive an award from the government for their hard work and for glorifying the local farming community, as this sport is supposedly sponsored in order to “draw the nation’s young people back into the agricultural sector.”
4. Semi Truck Gymkhana
Ken Block captured the world’s attention with his Ford Gymkhana antics, but for some people his cars never really could tip the scales the way a 10,000-pound big-rig with 1,100 horsepower could. Piloted by Michiel Becx, who was also the brains behind the Becx-TDS Racing semi seen here, the video seen here serves as a beacon of automotive ingenuity and driver prowess while behind the wheel.
A few years prior, a 1,950-horsepower Freightliner destroyed a Gymkhana course with ease, which was shortly followed thereafter by the emergence of the infamous Freightliner Cascadia Pikes Peak Special, complete with 2,400 horsepower of supercharged and turbocharged power. So if heavily modifying your retired tractor trailer so that you may navigate a technical course sounds like fun, this is your sport! Chances are your neighbors will hate you for picking up this new hobby, but to each their own, right?
5. The Japanese D-VAN Grand Prix
The idea of van racing is weird enough as it is, but using a clunky, top-heavy vehicle that isn’t readily available in your home country in the first place? That’s just flat-out strange. But having lived in Japan for some time, I can safely say that I’ve seen stranger things than middle-aged men racing heavily modified Dodge Vans around race tracks.
What started back in 2007 as just a romp around the track in the vans that transported a group of racers’ motorbikes quickly turned into something more, as parts like oil coolers, Edelbrock heads, and stainless steel headers all made their way onto these motorcycle transit vans. As the vans began to get things like custom suspension and Brembo big brake kits, the competition began to grow and with about fifty drivers competing per race, this oddball style of racing is one that continues to see growth.
6. 24 Hours of LeMons
I covered this rust-riddled form of racing to some extent last year when I talked about attending car events, and while there were a lot of details left out, the general picture was painted for you with all the skills my 5-year-old mind could muster.
It’s a race where champions are not made of money because your budget should be about $500, and by merely finishing the race you are considered a winner. This sport is getting big too, with races taking place on prestigious tracks like Gingerman and Sonoma Raceway, as hundreds of automotive abominations bound around their curves making a spectacle of themselves. This is a true spectator sport too, so if you like camping out, watching crappy car racing, and immersing yourself fully in what is commonly referred to as “a breeding ground for morons,” then this one’s a real winner.
7. Top Fuel Motorcycle Dirt Drag Racing
Our last entry is a brilliant blend of farm equipment, bored country folk, tractor pulls, motorcycles, and good old drag racing ingenuity. According to legend, one day a bunch of guys got bored waiting for their run up a hill at a local hill climb event, so while waiting for their turn, some of the boys decided to compete in a drag race over at a nearby dirt lot. Before long everyone else wanted to join, and voila, a new motor sport was born.
Outside of a few suspension tweaks and some seriously knobby tires, these bikes are the exact same thing you see drag racing at the local strip, with Kawasaki KZ1000 and Suzuki GS1000 motors with massive overbores, nitrous feeds, and even the occasional turbocharger upping the ante. Hell, some of these bikes have been known to put down over 1,000 horsepower according to builders, and in one case a bike set a record after covering 500 feet of dirt at nearly 150 miles per hour in just 4.44 seconds.