Racing is an ancient pastime, one that can be traced back to the earliest humans. But in the millennia since we started challenging each other, people have found some unconventional takes on the classic footrace. Check out some of the wackiest competitions to follow “ready, set, go!”
Camel racing has been around for centuries, especially in arid countries where the animals have long been used as a mode of transportation. The gangly ungulates can reach speeds of up to 40 mph, and races are popular betting attractions. Although we rarely incorporate camels into daily life here in the States, you can catch camel races occasionally around the country, even in the greater New York metropolitan area.
Racing these resilient insects is said to have started at a hotel in Australia in 1892. At the first ever cockroach race, a roach named Soft Cocky took first place. Although the practice has since spread around the world, an annual race is still held in Australia on Australia Day (January 26) at the same founding hotel.
3. Hermit Crabs
Not only does hermit crab racing exist, but there’s also a national racing association that’s been around since 1979! Since linear races require a near-impossible level of training, crabs start in the center of a circle, and the first to cross the border wins.
4. Lawn Mowers
Dating back to the ‘60s and ‘70s and with origin stories from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, lawn mower racing is surprisingly popular. There’s even a video game based on the sport! During a lawn mower race, the blades are removed as a safety precaution.
5. Pogo Sticks
It’s called Xpogo—or “extreme pogo”—and it’s a growing sport. Starting in 2004, enthusiasts have gathered annually for a multi-day series of pogo stick exhibitions. The event includes trick competitions as well as a series of obstacle races.
Inspired by a bet on a German television show, the first official Wok World Championship was held in 2003 in Winterberg and it was an immediate success. Practitioners—a mix of B-list celebrities and actual winter sport athletes—race regular old Chinese woks down bobsled courses. In addition to the single-wok sled there are four-person sleds composed of four interlocking woks.
Shovel racing began in New Mexico when ski resort workers slid on shovels to travel quickly around the slopes in the 1970s, and it has since become a relatively popular sport.
Those ice-cleaning machines you see at hockey games and ice skating rinks don’t go all that fast, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pit them against each other. The sport’s governing body stipulates that it’s not just speed, but also accuracy that counts—a five second penalty is applied for every patch of ice that is missed.
This one seems to have fallen out of favor for the obvious reason that cats don’t exactly go where you tell them. But in previous centuries, it was popular in England and Belgium to at least attempt cat racing for betting purposes. The original practice consisted of releasing a group of cats from a single sack and then timing how long it took them to get to their respective homes. The 20th century iteration, which involved training cats to chase an electric mouse, failed to catch on with the felines themselves.
10. Hot Air Balloons
The oldest and most prestigious hot air balloon race originated in Paris in 1906. The race is a test more of endurance than speed, with the aim simply to fly the farthest distance away from the starting point.
Every Easter Sunday since 2000, hoards of hilariously costumed and comparatively oversized adults have raced children’s tricycles down the famously winding Lombard Street in San Francisco. In the years since the race started, several other cities have started hosting their own such events.
Started in British Columbia in 1967, a race from Nanaimo to Vancouver is held annually on the last weekend in July. There are three classes of bathtub boats—Stock, Modified, and Super-Modified—which refer to the level of boat-ification each bathtub undergoes.
The annual bed race in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, England sees decadently dressed teams of seven—six runners and one bed-bound passenger—run a 2.4-mile race around the city and through the icy waters of the River Nidd.
14. Rubber Ducks
Taking the cake for least strenuous competition, rubber duck racing is as simple as writing your name on the bathtub toy and tossing it into a river. The duck that crosses the finish line first wins. The simplicity, however, makes it eminently re-creatable, and many such races featuring thousands of ducks have sprung up.
These towering flightless birds can be raced with people riding atop them or by pulling chariots—either way, they can reach speeds up to 25 mph. The races are incredibly entertaining, but tough to judge. With brains the size of a walnut, it’s all but impossible to train ostriches to run in a straight line.
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