The July 4 Turtle Race…is it the last?

1st place turtle racer Laramie McEntire, 12
1st place turtle racer Laramie McEntire, 12

Canadian’s Annual July 4th running of the turtles—a traditional July 4th event that has delighted youngsters for several generations now—lived up to its billing once again. A hundred web-footed racers vied on Tuesday for honors as the fastest turtle in the ring, as their young trainers—supported by family and friends—cheered them on from the perimeter.

Twelve-year-old Laramie McEntire (photo at right) fielded the fleetest hard-shelled steed to claim the top prize: $100 donated by Wellington State Bank. A tortoise entered by young Axl Adcock (photo below left) was second to the finish line, earning his 5-year-old coach a $75 prize, provided by Happy State Bank ($50) and Chris and Sarah Lay ($25). Eleven-year-old Cole Walser’s (photo below right) reptilian racer claimed third-place in the championship heat, netting Walser the $50 prize donated by Canadian Interbank.

The eagerly-anticipated race faces an uncertain future this year, as long-time organizers Dawn Dial and family and friends indicated they were ready to turn over the reins to another generation of volunteers. Dial first assumed the job of chief turtle-herder in 2007, while serving as Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office administrator, and this year, reprised her role once more when she learned that Sheriff Nathan Lewis and staff had indicated they would be unable to take on the job.

The Turtle Race originated around 1962, sponsored by the JayCees (Junior Chamber of Commerce) and held in conjunction with Canadian’s Fourth of July celebration. When that organization disbanded in 1976, the Lion’s Club took over sponsorship of the event, and in the intervening years, it was handed off to Hemphill County’s Juvenile Boot Camp staff, then to the Juvenile Probation Department, and finally to the Sheriff’s Office.

3rd-place turtle racer Cole Walser, 11
3rd-place turtle racer Cole Walser, 11
2nd place turtle racer Axl Adcock, 5
2nd place turtle racer Axl Adcock, 5

In the event’s infancy, the races were held on the floor of the city auditorium, while many watched from the balcony overhead. The location was later moved outside when event organizers realized that the turtles’ speed increased in direct proportion to the temperature of the pavement—which is predictably hot in early July—thus shortening the overall length of the race.

Whether the turtle race tradition will outlive its 55-year run will be left to a new generation to determine.

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