The last foot-long stretch of the turtle race at Saturday’s Roosevelt County Fair had one turtle owner leaping in the air, yelling like an NFL football coach on Super Bowl Sunday, and waving his cowboy hat in an attempt to coax his new pet to victory.
Sixto Paiz, 11, and Randall Craig, 12, collected a cash prize of $175 and a $50 gift certificate after their box turtle — nicknamed Speedy Gonzalez — was the first to cross the finish line in the final race.
“We just got it today and entered it up,” Paiz said. “It’s a feisty little turtle; bit a kid’s shirt earlier.”
The 13-heat race with more than 100 contestants displayed an array of racing strategy: some contestants were slow and uninspired to move past the starting point, others used a start-stop-start again game plan and some were too busy chasing and climbing over rival turtles to get past the initial heats.
In one of the heats, five turtles moved no more than a foot — combined. During another heat, a turtle gave its competitors a five-second head start then bolted toward the finish line then stopped, as if to gloat, and slowly trotted over the line for a second place finish.
The top two turtles in the first ten heats made it to the “Sweet Sixteen.” The field was then cut to eight for the final race, where Speedy Gonzalez scored victory by half a shell length.
The racing arena was circular, so turtles could choose their own path to the finish line.
In a race fair official Jackie Clark described as “the big show,” turtles showed up prepared in more ways than one.
One owner attached a leash to his turtle’s shell and was warming it up prior to the contest. Another owner, 7-year-old Tristan Tate, said he had attempted to prepare his turtle, named Red Eyes, with commands like “come over here” before the event.
But neither Red Eyes or the turtle on the leash made it to the finals.
Lyle Fraze’s entry placed second and Trenton West’s entry placed third in the finals. Fair officials gave away $1,000 in prizes to turtle owners.
And what would Craig and Paiz do with their prize money?
Spend it “on girls,” Paiz said.