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.
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: email@example.com.