A Historical Perspective
A tradition for nearly 40 years, the turtle races provide a great family activity for vacationing guests in the Cass County area of northern Minnesota. The turtle races began in 1967 when it dawned on saloon operator Russ Nyvall that the vacationing kids had nothing to do in town. He borrowed an idea he had heard about and adapted it to downtown Longville. That idea turned out to be what is known today as Longville Turtle Races. In the beginning the afternoon was just about racing turtles. In those early days it took from one to two hours to race all of the turtles. Today's turtle racing experience is much different, but the races themselves haven't changed much.
Today, 2006, at about 12:30 each Wednesday during the summer, the turtle mobile rumbles out onto main street as members of the Young At Heart Senior Club close off the street to vehicles. Laden with games, equipment and prizes, the turtle mobile resembles a space age monster as it is positioned near the racing circle in preparation for the afternoon of fun. Almost out of nowhere, turtle race helpers appear to unload the equipment and set up the many street games, which the children will play during the afternoon the registration kiosk and souvenir kiosk are also moved into place. The souvenir kiosk contains items which racers can take home as a special memory of their time at the races. When they have finished setting up the games the street resembles the midway of mini-county fair. At the west end of Main Street, the Longville area future entrepreneurs move into place. These youngsters, with the help of their moms and dads, prepare to provide turtles for the racers who have not been able to catch a turtle. The Chamber leases the turtles from the turtle vendors. The vendors will bring out the turtles to the racers as they prepare for each historical race.
The racing announcer presents instructions regarding the afternoon's activities to the racers. The county fair like games begin as soon as the racers begin to pay their $3.00 registration fee that includes the free use of a turtle and buy their game tickets. The games include Turtle Toss, Turtle Golf, Turtle Hoops, Turtle Touchdown, Turtles on the Fence, Bola Toss and Fishing for Fun. Each game costs a mere 50 cents and all players win prizes regardless of their sport skills. Back at the turtle mobile, racers can win prizes at a several pre-race contests. Racers can win prizes at the chicken dance contest, YMCA dance contest, Hokey Pokey dance contest and Macarena dance contest. Prizes are also given to the best hula hoopers. Moms, dads, and grandparents can even win prizes for the hula hoop skills. Prizes are given to everyone who has a birthday that week, those who have a wedding anniversary, and those who live in a foreign country.
Promptly at 1:45 p.m. the races begin. The first race of the day is the "Resort Turtle Race". Kids come from many of the area lake resorts from lakes such as Woman Lake and the Woman Lake Chain, Wabedo Lake, Little Boy and Boy Lake, Birch Lake, Pleasant Lake, Ten Mile Lake, Leech Lake as well as many of the other area lakes. Here kids can represent their resort and win big prizes. There is usually just one heat for the resort turtle race and one winner. Then the regular turtle races begin. Run in heats of ten, twelve or fifteen turtles, depending on the number of racers that day and the time remaining, the turtle racers gather in the center circle where the turtle vendors bring out the turtles for each racer. At the moment that the announcer yells "go" and special turtle racing music begins, the racers release their turtles. Instinctively, a majority of the turtles head out from the inner circle across the pavement to cross the outer circle. The fastest turtle to cross the outer circle wins a green ribbon and a turtle buck (worth one dollar at any chamber retail business) and an opportunity to race again for big prizes at the end of the afternoon. The turtle that, for some unknown reason, chooses not to head out of the inner circle or becomes confused staying closest to the letter "A" in the word "START", is declared the heat's slow poke champion and wins a white ribbon and a turtle buck and a chance to race again at the end of the afternoon.
After all of the turtles have raced, the fastest turtle race heat winners race off, as well as the "Slowpoke" turtle race heat winners. The grand winners receive a plethora of prizes provided by merchants. Tee shirts, pizza's, ice cream cones, and memorabilia gifts are among the prizes won by the winners.
Pictures art taken of the Resort Turtle Race winner and the Grand Champion Winners plus the weekly " Chicken Dance Singers" and submitted to the various newspapers. In addition, the turtle racers can reminisce of their fun at turtle races by logging on to the Chamber's web site www.longville.com where there are pictures of the winners and some of the day's events.
The 22 race volunteers, who have worked hard during the afternoon to provide a lot of happiness for the children, load up the games and equipment on to the turtle mobile. The kiosks are moved off of reopened and the turtle mobile rumbles back to its lair where it will wait until the next Wednesday's race.
The Longville Turtle races have become so important over the years that the Minnesota House of Representatives, on March 2, 1989, passed a resolution, declaring Longville, Minnesota, the Turtle Racing Capital of the World.
Many people from all over the world enjoy their lake home or lake cabin in the Longville Minnesota area and with 514 lakes, over 250,000 acres of water in Cass Coounty and miles of sand shoreline, including Woman Lake and Woman Lake Chain of Lakes, Wabedo Lake, Little Boy Lake, Boy Lake, Man Lake, Ten Mile Lake, Birch Lake, Pleasant Lake, Long Lake and the 3rd largest lake in Minnesota Leech Lake it is no wonder that Longville, MN is named the turtle race capital of the world.