Slow, steady wins race

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Sterling Muse, 7, of Clovis gets ready for the start of the Great American Turtle Race Saturday at the Curry County Fairgrounds. In the end, he didn’t win the race, but said he can’t wait until next time.

By Tony Gutierrez: CNJ staff writer

Max Whitaker had trained his turtle, Rocky, since June for the Curry County Fair’s eighth annual Great American Turtle Race.

The contestants squatted inside a small chalk circle inside a bigger circle and released their turtles when they heard the word, “Go!” The first turtle to cross the bigger circle line was the winner.

While 3-year-old Max cheered on his turtle, Rocky approached the finish line, but instead of crossing it, turned back around.

“He got to the finish line and turned around; it was real funny,” said Max’s mom, Misty Presley.

Presley, a disc jockey for KTQM, said she and her son had planned to race Rocky before she started working at the radio station and was afraid they couldn’t compete because of the station’s sponsorship. However, her mother came to visit and registered Max right at the 4 p.m. Friday deadline as contestant no. 137.

“I was secretly cheering for him,” Presley said, who also co-hosted the races with disc jockey Grant McGee.

Tommy and Tara Conlin visited their father, Lee, from Albuquerque and competed their turtles.

“We find them going from Santa Rosa to Clovis,” said fifth-grader Tara.

Lee Conlin said he kept the turtles for when his children visited this weekend.

“I try to find fun things to do,” he said. “Last year, we ran across the turtle race and got real interested. We enjoy the fun.”

Third-grader Tommy’s turtle, Speed, won the first heat but placed fourth in the second round and couldn’t advance. Tara’s turtle, Lightning, stopped at the line.

“He was this close to getting past the line, but he stopped,” Tara said. “He didn’t want to go further.”

The turtle that captured the first-place prize of $300 for its owner, Melrose High School senior Jeannie Payne, was Speedy. Jeannie said Speedy was anxious to move quickly because she kept him in a box for about a month.

“I’m very proud of you … just don’t bite me,” Jeannie said to Speedy while she held him and scratched his belly.

Contestants caught box turtles to enter the race. Every turtle that participated was released back into the wild.