For Bathtub Races, There's No Place Like Nome

In Nome, Alaska, preparations are under way to celebrate Labor Day with an annual Bathtub Race. Champion racer Nancy McGuire lets Liane Hansen in on some of her secrets.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Any Labor Day celebrant who wants to indulge, but also wants to keep within the law, might head for Nome, Alaska this weekend. Up there on the Seward Peninsula facing out toward the Bering Straits, the Labor Day holiday is celebrated with an annual bathtub race.

Nancy McGuire is editor and publisher of the Nome Nugget newspaper. She's also a member of the defending champion bathtub racing team known as the Laughing Ladies.

Nancy McGuire joins us by phone from Nome to discuss this year's race. Welcome to the show, Nancy.

Ms. NANCY MCGUIRE (Nome Nugget): Well, I'm glad to be here, and we're just scouring up the Laughing Woman's tub here and getting everything prepared.

HANSEN: What is bathtub racing in the first place?

Ms. MCGUIRE: We have to at least bathe once a year, and we can prove it up here. Just ask our former mayor, Leo Rasmussen(ph). He's the man who founded it back in the early '70s or so. And we usually get maybe as many as ten bathtubs with their teams. And it starts in front of City Hall and ends in the post office. And the first one down to the finish line gets the honor of having the trophy for a year.

HANSEN: You expect ten bathtubs with teams. How many people on each team?

Ms. MCGUIRE: Well, there's four people on a team, plus a bather.

HANSEN: Four other people, what? Pushing this thing? Are these modified bathtubs?

Ms. MCGUIRE: They're pushing it or pulling it. They have all kinds of contraptions. But that's the means of power, is the bathtub pullers. You know, there are certain qualifications. For example, you have to have a straw hat, suspenders - suspenders of any type will do.

Suspenders are kind of hard to come by, so instead they use duct tape which is the universal fix-all, at least in Alaska. You have to have muscle and speed and in the tub you have to some water and a towel and a cake of soap and a bather, who we usually get to be a light small child who's up for enjoyment in the bubble stuff.

As the race starts, you pull the plug on the water that's in the tub and you speed down Front Street.

HANSEN: What's your bathtub look like?

Ms. MCGUIRE: Well it's a standard sized bathtub with a large towel rack on the back and small wheels that were off of some kind of a cart. And we have a steering mechanism which is like a little kid's wagon, you know, with a pull on the front. We can steer with that.

HANSEN: So the glory, of course, is having the whole town come out and congratulate you and take home that trophy, right?

Ms. MCGUIRE: Right. We have a trophy here and on display in the Nugget newspaper. It's a rather unique one. It has a nice little bathtub on it with Ms. Piggy and Kermit the Frog in the tub.

HANSEN: And it's passed on each year and the winning names go on it.

Ms. MCGUIRE: Right. We have a tradition in the Nome Nugget of using it for a cause of some sort. For example, last year our team raced for hurricane relief. We raised several thousand dollars for Louisiana, adopted a hospital, the East Jefferson Memorial Hospital.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Nancy McGuire is editor and publisher of the Nome Nugget and a member of the defending champion Laughing Ladies bathtub racing team. Good luck, Nancy.

Ms. MCGUIRE: All right. Well, thank you. A pleasure talking with you.

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