Camel races celebrate 50 years in Virginia City

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

VIRGINIA CITY - This year, I don't even have to stretch the truth. I honestly won my race in the Media Grudge Match of the Virginia City Camel Races.

It might be because I got some inside advice before the competition.

Shorty Smith, of Tasmania, who races all across Australia and is a five-time International Cup winner, gave me some simple tips.

"Just hang on, and balance is a big part of it," he said. "The rest will come in time."

But perhaps the most useful advice came from camel provider Joe Hedrick of Hedrick's Exotic Animal Farm in Kansas.

"Be the first across the finish line," he recommended.

It worked. For me and for 15-year-old novice Kody Burrell of Virginia City. He raced in hopes of beating his mom, Karla Burrell, last year's overall winner.

He came up just short of beating her in the camel race, so placed his hopes on the ostriches.

"I know how good a rider he is on horses and motorcycles," Karla said. "He's got a good chance of beating Mom."

When Karla's ostrich started spinning just across the start line, she fell off, leaving Kody and Shorty to battle it out. The victor's crown went to Kody, barely beating Shorty by a beak.

"It was fun," Kody said. "Definitely different than anything else you'll ever do."

He didn't rub it in too bad.

"Nice dismount," he told his mom.

Sports Illustrated photographer Donald Miralle, who was in the area shooting the Great Reno Balloon Races and Professional Bull Riding, also tried out camel racing for the first time.

"Those things bounce around quite a bit," he said. "I wasn't prepared for being thrown around like that."

The bounce was too much for Cesily Hill of Reno, who fell from her camel in the first heat and had to be taken away by paramedics.

Soso Whaley, who created a behind-the-scenes documentary about the camel races, also took a spill coming around the curve of the course.

But she wouldn't have missed the 50th anniversary of the races.

"I had to come back, come hell or high water," said the New Hampshire filmmaker.

A film crew from Animal Planet's "Untamed and Uncut" also was there, doing a piece to air in the next two to three weeks.

"We traverse the country covering people and animals and all the fun that can happen between them," said Pat Lalama, producer for Cheri Sundae Production. "When you combine the uniqueness and mystique of camels with the rich history of Virginia City, it's fascinating. I've found it's been my favorite assignment so far."

Whaley is now working on a documentary about the history of the camel races. Anyone with photos or stories from years past should contact her at soso@comcast.net.

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

Virginia City International Camel Races

Today:

Festivities begin at noon with a grand parade down C Street, featuring the camels, floats, marchers, hot rods, llamas and the equestrian teams. The races begin after a grand opening ceremony celebrating the 50th year of camel races in Virginia City.

A children's fun zone will include a bounce house, fast draw competition (ages 12 and up), pony and camel rides.

Saturday evening, folks can get dressed up in their best for the Camel Hump Ball with a silent auction at the Old Freight Depot on E Street, put on by the International Order of Camel Jockeys. Proceeds benefit the Eagle Valley Children's Home in Carson City. Free admission.

There will be live music all over town and fun for the whole family.

Sunday:

Championship races will be held.

WHERE: Camel Arena, F Street, Virginia City

WHEN: Gates open each day at 1 p.m. Races begin at 1:30.

COST: General admission is $10; VIP tickets are $40; family pack is $25; junior/senior/military $8.

On the 'Net

Read more about Hedrick's Exotic Animal Farm at www.hedricks.com.

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