Racing comes in many forms and can often result in dramatic competition, regardless of the form or the stakes.

Last Saturday evening, the stakes were pretty high and the suspense even higher as racing took center stage during the waning hours of Brushy Creek Days, a three-day event that was the latest in a series of festivals being staged this year in downtown Houston. And this was no ordinary race.

It took place on the waters of Brushy Creek itself – with toy ducks.

Event organizers David Klotz and Bob Amburn had spent the better part of the previous two weeks securing competitors for the showdown, and their efforts produced a field of more than 50 birds, each equipped with a number purchased for a $5 investment by race entrants.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

From the moment Amburn stood atop the guardrail-less bridge on Walnut Street near U.S. 63 and released the floating racers from their high-tech, space-age cardboard starting box, it was obvious the event would be epic. As the birds battled for position in the calm waters of the starting pool, some moved to the front of the pack and zipped ahead by grabbing at the current in the first of multiple narrow passages on the race course.

But none of the early leaders retained their edge, as all became trapped in whirlpools, eddies and other diversions on a course fraught with potential disaster. Meanwhile, other ducks managed to stay in flowing lanes and moved downstream.

As the competition unfolded, the lead changed hands at least four times. The competitors’ numbers weren’t visible as they negotiated the rapids, rock outcroppings and small shut-ins along the course, so tension mounted along with the wonder of whose duck was battling whose.

Finally a parade of ducks reached the small waterfall leading into the finish pool, and the question of whose duck had beaten whose would be answered. Amburn waded into the pool’s knee-deep water and plucked the winning ducks out one by one, calling out their numbers to race official Klotz, who was standing on the rocky shore a few feet away, holding the master list of entrants’ names and ducks’ numbers.

First, Amburn lifted a duck high and called out, “51!.”

“Jay York,” Klotz said.

Amburn reached down for the runner-up.

“33!” he yelled.

Klotz hesitated a bit and turned to me.

“That’s you for goodness’ sake,” he said.

Then Amburn yelled, “90!”

“Jay York again?” Klotz said.

“What are the odds?” I said.

Once the results sank in a bit, a feeling of elation came over me. It was almost surreal knowing my duck had all but equaled the performance of the birds entered by a big-money program like Jay York Racing.

All the minutes of preparation had paid off.

During my (imaginary) post-race interview on DRN (the Duck Racing Network), I gave the credit to my peeps, so to speak.

“I’d like to thank my crew for giving me such a great duck today,” I said. “The Grandview Farms Houston Herald 33 was set up perfectly for the conditions. We just didn’t have enough to catch the 51.”

York Racing raked in $125 for the showing (the $100 first prize and $25 third-place money), while I pocketed $50. Not bad considering the up-front expenditure.

Something tells me this isn’t the last time the York group will challenge all comers on the water. I’d say it’s up to the rest of us to get our ducks in a row to prevent the building of a dynasty (which would I guess have to be a duck dynasty).

And next time we’ll probably be looking at a field closer to 100 than 50, so a top-three finish will be even sweeter.

In any case, this certainly was a memorable moment for Houston and should go down as a highlight in the annals of the town’s history. Surely, it was just ducky.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Bob Amburn cheers on the competitors in a toy duck race May 3 on Brushy Creek during the Brushy Creek Days festival. Jay York Racing took first and third in the race, with the team's No. 51 duck securing the $100 top prize and its No. 90 bird taking the $25 third-place money. The No. 33 duck entered by Houston Herald reporter Doug Davison finished between the two York birds to earn the $50 runner-up prize.

Bob Amburn cheers on the competitors in a toy duck race May 3 on Brushy Creek during the Brushy Creek Days festival. Jay York Racing took first and third in the race, with the team’s No. 51 duck securing the $100 top prize and its No. 90 bird taking the $25 third-place money. The No. 33 duck entered by Houston Herald reporter Doug Davison finished between the two York birds to earn the $50 runner-up prize.

Co-event coordinator Bob Amburn points at top finishers in a toy duck race May 3 on Brushy Creek during the Brushy Creek Days festival.

Co-event coordinator Bob Amburn points at top finishers in a toy duck race May 3 on Brushy Creek during the Brushy Creek Days festival.

 

 

 

I was pretty surprised by how many people were in downtown Houston on the night of Thursday, Sept. 19.

And I wasn’t alone – just about everyone I spoke to during and after the inaugural Welcome Back Home to Downtown Houston event felt the same way. I mean, I expected the festival of food, music, classic cars and bikers to attract some attention and I figured there would be enough interest to draw some folks to the Grand Avenue area.

But I didn’t expect to see what actually went down. As my wife and I drove down First Street, drew near the Lone Star Plaza and saw the number of vehicles already parked just about everywhere possible, we were like, “wow.”

A while later, as a friend and I were standing in the plaza listening to one of the three musical groups that entertained the crowd that night, we looked around at all the people and I said, “how many do you think?”

He said, “there’s close to 500 here right now.”

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

That was probably pretty accurate. The place was hopping, from the motorcycle enthusiasts having their monthly cruise-in to the south of Pine Street, to the folks staring closely at the paint jobs on the classic cars lining the street a block to the north, to the large lawn-chair-seated gathering in the plaza enjoying the music emanating from under the big orange canopy.

Meanwhile, stores and eating establishments that elected to be open for business during the event raked in a pile of cash they otherwise wouldn’t have had access to.

It was truly a memorable night, and an amazing result for what basically amounted to a test run for the idea. It’s a testament to what’s possible if the circumstances are right and someone who doesn’t understand the meaning of “won’t work” or “can’t be done” puts their nose to the grindstone to make something happen.

The two guys who nosed up to the stone were Houston residents Bob Amburn and David Klotz, who on a virtual whim organized one heck of an event using seat-of-the-pants ingenuity. And the thing was free to attend – that’s what I’m talking about.

The initial plan was to continue a series of similar events depending on how the first one went. Well, the results are in from No. 1, and something tells me the encore that’s in the works for October won’t take a step backward.

Five things we learned from the first-ever Welcome Back Home to Downtown Houston event (in no particular order):

1. Executing amazing moves with a lighted Hula Hoop is nowhere near as easy as Houston resident Joslyn Driesel makes it look.

With exceptionally miniscule (but entirely fluid) movement, the young woman can make a large plastic ring outfitted with flashing, color-changing lights move from her ankles to her shoulders, from an arm to a leg, or from her neck to her knees seemingly without trying.

But perhaps the most intriguing thing about her artistry is how the hoop can be going clockwise around her body, and suddenly change to moving counterclockwise without the slightest hesitation. I figure there are three possible explanations: Either it’s some sort of illusion, the laws of physics that have been accepted for centuries need to be revisited, or she just knows something about hoopin’ that has escaped the rest of us.

2. 1960s Ford Mustangs are still really cool.

The convertibles are nice – especially on a night with weather as perfect as last Thursday – but I prefer the hardtops. And give me the paint jobs with the grays and browns, too, over the blues and yellows.

3. Musicians don’t necessarily need to have lots of experience playing together to sound good together.

Toward the end of the evening, a group of men took to the concrete slab under the Canopy of Culture and produced some very respectable renditions of several classic rock songs. Near the beginning of their set, bass player and lead singer Doug Driesel turned to his left and said, “I don’t know you” to the man seated behind the keyboard.

At that moment, Driesel and Steve Neece were introduced. Including contributions from lead guitarist Josh York, drummers Klotz and Andrew Stockard, and guitarist and vocalist Tim Henderson, the Band With No Name sounded downright good, with the tight timing and balance of a substantially more experienced bunch. Go figure.

On a side note, I like how at one point the presence of Driesel’s Hula-Hooping daughter-in-law Joslyn had an effect on the decision of what song should be played next. I’ve never before heard the question that was asked out loud through a microphone (I think by Driesel himself): “what can we do that she can hoop to?”

4. With regard to family-oriented, community-centered activities, Houston is ripe for the picking.

When a woman I know and I were discussing the huge turnout that surrounded us last Thursday night, she made the comment, “this shows how much Houston wanted this.” I’d take that a step further and say it also show how much the town needs this kind of thing.

There can never be too many good reasons to get kids and families out of their homes (and away from smothering, mesmerizing video technology). Thursday night was the ideal good reason, and a throng of people from all walks of life took advantage of the opportunity, including kids of all sizes and ages and adults from 20-somethings to every other somethings.

That was the best part.

5. David Klotz is a way better drummer than Bobby Amburn is a dancer.

But both guys know how to have a good time, and a lot of people in the community are glad to have had the opportunity to join them (and would be glad to do so again).

Anyway, who knew that the big former hospital walkway awning that’s now one of downtown Houston’s most recognizable features would ever be overhead of a bunch of line dancers doing the Boot Scootin’ Boogie?

Kudos to the City of Houston for backing the event, and same to all the folks who showed up and didn’t leave behind a bunch of trash or – as a police chief I know quite well might say – make any “poor decisions.” Hope to see you downtown on a fine October night coming soon.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Hundreds of people gather in the Lone Star Plaza Sept. 19 during the inaugural Welcome Back Home to Downtown Houston event.

Hundreds of people gather in the Lone Star Plaza Sept. 19 during the inaugural Welcome Back Home to Downtown Houston event.

Motorcycles line Grand Avenue during Thursday night's inaugural Welcome Back Home to Downtown Houston event, which coincided with the monthly bikers cruise-in.

Motorcycles line Grand Avenue during Thursday night’s inaugural Welcome Back Home to Downtown Houston event, which coincided with the monthly bikers cruise-in.

The Houston High School Jazz Ensemble entertains the crowd under the big canopy in the Lone Star Plaza Thursday night during the inaugural Welcome Back Home to Downtown Houston event.

The Houston High School Jazz Ensemble entertains the crowd under the big canopy in the Lone Star Plaza Thursday night during the inaugural Welcome Back Home to Downtown Houston event.

Hula Hoop artist Joslyn Driesel, of Houston, entertains the crowd in the Lone Star Plaza Thursday night during the inaugural Welcome Back Home to Downtown Houston event.

Hula Hoop artist Joslyn Driesel, of Houston, entertains the crowd in the Lone Star Plaza Thursday night during the inaugural Welcome Back Home to Downtown Houston event.

A group of perople do the "Boot Scootin' Boogie" line dance to the sounds of The South 63 Band under the canopy in the Lone Star Plaza  during Thursday night's inaugural Welcome Back Home to Downtown Houston event.

A group of people do the “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” line dance to the sounds of The South 63 Band under the canopy in the Lone Star Plaza during Thursday night’s inaugural Welcome Back Home to Downtown Houston event.