A SQUEAKY CLEAN RACE
When it comes to great race towns, you may think of Daytona, Indianapolis, Louisville, and Belmont. If you think of Nome, Alaska at all, you're a dog sledding fan who follows the Iditarod.
But bathtub racing fans know Nome is a race mecca that's definitely squeaky clean, thanks to The Great Bathtub Race. The race may be "fixed" by a ringer plumber or two, but there's no question the participants are the cleanest people in Nome...at least for the day.
Though they won't be sipping glasses of milk or mint juleps at the finish line, Nome's Great Bathtub Race will be held again on Labor Day, making it the 19th straight clean race for the tub. A Labor Day tradition since 1978, the race is the brainchild of founder and well-known Nome supporter Leo Rasmussen. As owner of Rasumussen's Music Mart, Leo is used to being in hot water when the latest CDs don't arrive from the Continental U.S., many miles from Nome. His enthusiastic tubs and team members are always the talk of the town on tub day.
The race has definitely developed into a tourist attraction of sorts, drawing curious spectators and teams from afar to Nome's Front Street. "It's a great event for the community at a nice time of the year," says Rasmussen. Rasmussen started the event because other towns hosted bed races and he correctly predicted that this was a great way to attract visitors and attention to Nome.
Basically, teams are made up of five members, four of whom push a bathtub (and the fifth member) on wheels about 100 yards down Nome's main street to the finish. The rules for The Great Bathtub Race are simple (though not so serious) in some respects, but all wet in others:
1--All entrants must be 18 years of age or older or have a signed parental release.
2--Each team entering The Great Bathtub Race must have five members (no more, no less). Four members must wear larger brimmed hats and have appropriately displayed suspenders. The standard bathtub can be no smaller than four feet long and two and one-half feet wide and use wheels no bigger than 30 inches in diameter, mounted on axles no more than 44 inches wide.
3--One member will have to carry one large bar of soap, one must carry a wash cloth, one must carry a bath towel, and one a very definitive bath mat. Soap bubbles must be very apparent in the bathwater, if not overflowing the tub.
4--One member of the five-member team must be situated in the bathtub, with the appearance of taking a bath from the start of the race all the way through to the official finish of the race.
5--The bathtub must be full of water for the official start of the race and have no less than ten gallons of water left in the tub at the finish line for the judge to examine. Violation of this rule will constitute a lifetime ban from taking a bath on Front Street anytime.
6--The race will start in front of the new Federal Building (U.S. Post Office) and proceed west on Front Street to the finish line in front of City Hall (Old Iditarod Finish Line). The race will start at High Noon and the first qualifying team to all cross the finish line will be the winner.
7--All teams will draw for starting positions no later than five minutes before the start of The Great Bathtub Race--High Noon, Labor Day, every year in Nome, Alaska, U.S.A. All positions--1,2,3, etc., will line up at the starting line from the north side of the street.
8--No mechanical or motorized device may provide any propulsion for the movement of the bathtub from start to finish. All power to move the bathtub from start to finish must be provided by the four members of the team not in the bathtub (team power). No assistance from any other source other than the team will be permitted. Violation of this rule will constitute loss of rights to be given the Mayors Official Recognition Award--ever.
9--The team is composed of one Captain who must ride in the bathtub, a Bath Soap Guard, a Bath Towel Guard, a Bath Mat Guard, and a Wash Cloth Guard. All must make it very apparent of the Official Duties they are performing for their team in The Great Bathtub Race.
10--Entry fee of $20.00 is required and to be paid before entering The Great Bathtub Race. The fee must be paid to any of the co-chairmen no less than five minutes before the start of the race. Failure to do so will officially disqualify the team from entering the permanent records, which are most always never kept anyhow.
11--Prizes for the winning team include recognition of their efforts on a Perpetual Trophy and each member of the winning team receives a trophy for their personal efforts in making their team most notable. However, there is little that can be done to clean up the characters of such individuals who have degraded themselves to participate, by making a splash in Nome or by making light of some poor sodden soul while on Front Street.
These flexible rules result in a wide variety of tubs, rigs, outfits, and race strategies. The victor may not always be the lightest, swiftest, or cleanest.
Many wet and wild things have happened over the years, including crashes, the use of ultralight steamlined bathtubs made for the event, major water balloon battles, and much more. In 1988, the tenth anniversary race, the winning team even used Joy dishwashing liquid to get a "clean getaway" on their road to victory. That same year, Rasmussen also unveiled his famous "I Can Prove I Bath" t-shirt.
Though they probably didn't obey all of the rules completely, last year's winning tub team was Artic Leverage, a frequent favorite and winner. They've won every race they've entered, which Stultz attributes to their corporate sponsors (and his employer), Crowley Maritime.
Leo Rasmussen's bathtub team, Leo's Red Bare'n, finished second, several tub lengths behind the winners. His daughter Kristina's all-female team came in third, though their name, Bumper Thumpers, wasn't determined until after the race (they hit a truck). The winning team receives the trophy, a statue of Miss Piggy and Kermit taking a bath, which is handed down from year to year.
In a post-race interview with The Nome Reporter, Alaska's oldest newspaper, Leo blamed the loss on a poor weight ratio. Though definitely not wet behind the ears when it comes to tub toting, he said, "We had to pull two tubs!"
The winning team's entry featured a light and aerodynamic tub, a tubular alloy steel frame, thin aluminum bicycle tires, and team captain, Lee Thorpe, who had lost a half-pound from his rotund figure just for the race. Leo's Red Bare'n tub and team featured a wooden frame, R125 all-season radial tires, duct-tape suspenders, and team member Bob Fankhauser, a Portland, Oregon resident born in Nome more than 50 years ago. The Bumper Thumpers carried lots of water balloons for the ladies to lob at competing tubs...and spectators.
When The Nome Nugget asked winning captain Thorpe what he planned to do to celebrate his victory, he replied, "Go home and take a shower."
To enter the race or just watch from the street with hundreds of other spectators, contact Leo Rasmussen at Rasmussen's Music Mart, P.O. Box 2, Nome, AK 99762-0002, (907) 443-2798. For information about getting to and visiting Nome, accommodations, and other recommendations, contact the Nome Visitor Center, P.O. Box 240, Nome, AK 99762-0240, (907) 443-5535.