48th running of camel races brings out the fun side of Nevada
Appeal Staff Writer
Sarah Quasi glanced askance at the man 100 feet away trying to mount an angry giant bird to finish his ride around a quarter-mile dust and rock horseshoe-shaped track.
She puckered and then licked the dry corners of her mouth, smacking away the dust from the frenetic ostrich and its jockey.
Palm outstretched above her eyes, shading from the glare of the Virginia City sun bathing in the brown clay, she glanced to husband, Mike. He looked back and in one unchoreographed but perfectly timed motion the couple’s knees cracked as together they got up from a crouch beneath the only visible shade tree.
Dusting off khakis, they made way for the exit.
The Sparks residents, recent transplants from Long Island, New York, got their first taste – literally, of the Virginia City International Camel Races on Sunday and left the event in mid swing wondering what they’d seen.
“All I can say is this just says ‘Nevada’ to me,” Mike Quasi said.
His description was all-too-fitting, one race volunteer said during the final afternoon of the 48th annual races.
“Of course, this is Nevada,” said Fallon resident Olivia Ewing, clad in an official oversized powder blue camel races shirt and motioning to the 1,000-plus spectators. “This is my 23rd year. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
Ewing, who was assisting on the final day of races, shuffled a sheet of binder paper with racers’ names and heats scribbled in as two men settled on ostrich backs; ready for a 250-yard ramble.
“Look at them,” Ewing said nodding to the pair of white knuckles clasped onto dusty black feathers. “So many people come out for the first time to see this, and they come back. It seems to grow every year.”
First-time ostrich jockey Devin Royce of Silver Lake, Calif., finished second (of two) in his final heat. That he was not dumped off the ostrich he described as a “personal victory.”
“Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever ridden an ostrich,” he said. “I mean, I’m pretty proud of myself. We came here with a big group, and it’s just great to come out here and be with the good ‘ol boys.”
Ostrich race winner, Charles Dillon of San Jose, Calif., said he makes an annual pilgrimage to the camel races, noting he pretty much has the technical know-how it takes to stay aboard the back of a giant bird and guide it around a semi-circle track for 30 seconds.
“You have to shift your weight with it,” he said. “I felt really good from the start – you just kinda have to go with it.”
Going with it may be the defacto theme of the three-day event, which started almost a half-century ago as a hoax from the editor of the local paper.
Never ones to take themselves too seriously, organizers and volunteers at the races keep coming back because, in the words of Ed Works of Boise, Idaho, “it’s just plain fun.”
“It’s just a great thing to do and be a part of,” said Works, who dons a monk’s robe and drives a small car decorated like a fire-breathing dragon during some of the kids’ events. “What can I say? I wouldn’t miss it.”
True to her preternatural native Nevada ways, Reno resident and first-timer Sahara Wilcox, 6, said she’ll be back “every year – even when I’m older.”
“I like the birds, they’re super fast,” she said. “I like watching people have fun.”
• Andrew Pridgen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org