Turbo Turtles: Little Woodrow's Weekly Turtle Races

By Reihaneh Hajibeigi, Skylar Isdale, Meleena Loseke and Rachel Perlmutter

A Houston tradition has crawled its way into the “Keep Austin Weird” motto as turtle races have become a popular attraction at a local Austin bar.

Every Thursday night at Little Woodrow’s Southpark Meadows you can find red-eared sliders racing for some light-hearted competition.

Little Woodrow's manager Adam Stockstill has run the turtle races since they began five years ago. Photo by Rachel Perlmutter

Little Woodrow’s manager Adam Stockstill has run the turtle races since they began five years ago. Photo by Rachel Perlmutter

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Turtle racing originated at the Little Woodrow’s in Houston, but because it was a huge success they decided to bring the fun to Austin. Little Woodrow’s manager, Adam Stockstill, said, “this definitely provides entertainment while you’re here on Thursdays.”

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The race begins with six turtles placed in a bottomless bucket in the middle of a circular track. Once the bucket is raised, the turtles start running in every direction.

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The first turtle to cross the checkered-line wrapped around the track wins the heat. The first turtle to win two heats wins the round.

The normal turtle races host, the “turtle master,” also plays into the quirkiness of the night by dressing up as one of the slow-moving reptiles, an outfit complete with green clothing, a makeshift human-size turtle shell and a brown top hat.

Going on its fifth season of turtle racing, the Austin bar has built a regular fan-base of race-goers. “The crowd really gets into it and cheers on the turtle they want to win,” said Stockstill.

Cathy Dixon, a three-time winner of the turtle races, has been coming to the races for a year. “It’s just fun and a great atmosphere,” Dixon said.

Due to the illegality of gambling in a public place, no official monetary wagers are made, but audience members can drop their tickets into one of the numbered buckets that match the turtles’ racing stickers in order to place bets. If, for example, the turtle with the number three on its shell wins the round, a ticket is drawn from the corresponding bucket and the ticket holder receives a prize.

Little Woodrow’s gives away the free prizes from their promoters. Dixon said she won coupons, shirts and movie passes. Other prizes include gift certificates, koozies and even tickets to The University of Texas football games.

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Not every fan in the audience knew what was waiting for them when they showed up to Little Woodrow’s. Griffin Cypher traveled to Austin from Leland, Michigan for the Austin City Limits music festival, but wound up at a turtle race for the first time, and left as a winner.

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“I like the randomness of it because I am really into gambling,” said Cypher. “I won two koozies, a t-shirt and a ten dollar gift certificate, which is actually pretty awesome for just turtle racing.”

Red-eared sliders have been known to be carriers of the salmonella disease. The Exotic Pets online resource states that following proper hygiene procedures will prevent infections.

“I believe any egg-laying animal is capable of transmitting salmonella. That doesn’t mean they have it,” said Stockstill. “These turtles are disease-free.”

Celebrities are treated like royalty, and there is no exception for these turtles. Stockstill reassured that, “they live like kings.”

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