Today is the last day of June, which means the NBA and NHL finals are (finally) behind us. Yup, we were watching NBA basketball into the third week of June and NHL ice — Ice! — hockey into the fourth. That means we can now turn our attention to the sport that, in my opinion, is America’s real national pastime. The sport that links generations and reminds us of our idyllic past and our pastoral roots. A sport that may be less violent than football, but one that nevertheless demands speed and eye-hand coordination and serious mental toughness.
Yes, it is time once again for the annual Fourth of July Outhouse Races in Bristol, Vermont. They begin this Thursday morning at nine a.m., the opening act for one of the Green Mountain’s longest and most eccentric Fourth of July parades.
I’ve never participated in the Outhouse Races, but I’ve watched them for years. It’s Nascar meets the Olympic one-hundred meter dash. It’s a chariot race with pretend port-a-potties. For those of you unfamiliar with an outhouse race, it is, in my opinion, the real sport of kings. After all, you have someone sitting upon the proverbial throne and you have other people wagering along the side of the racetrack.
Here is what’s involved:
You build a replica of an outhouse. Keep it light, but there should be a hole on which a person can (and will) sit.
Put the outhouse on castors or wheels.
Find a few people willing to race like madmen and women down Bristol’s Main Street, some pulling and some pushing each outhouse.
There are usually four heats, the winner of each being the first outhouse to break the toilet paper tape. These winners compete in one final race for the championship.
Meanwhile, those of us in the crowd can cheer and bet and eat.
This Thursday will mark the 35th running of the runs. There are other outhouse races in other parts of this great land, but none dating back to the Carter Presidential administration and none on the Fourth of July.
Unbelievably diligent readers will recall that I first wrote about the Outhouse Races almost twenty years ago. But things have changed since then. They are no longer managed by the Bristol Rotary Club because the Bristol Rotary Club was disbanded. And the course no longer runs around the Bristol green because the corners meant that the race was fast becoming – to quote Ted Lylis, a race organizer for twenty years and still an eager and experienced assistant – “a blood sport.” He said that parked cars were “getting their vehicle mirrors ripped off. Doug Mack – owner of Mary’s at Baldwin Creek – once fell down and got run over by his own outhouse. There was always a lot of blood and a lot of skin loss.” Consequently, now the course runs in a straight line down Main Street in front of the green, ending at the one traffic light in the village.
Like so many other big ideas, the outhouse races were born late into a New Year’s Eve party. The details now are a little sketchy – this was, after all, a New Year’s Eve party — but a pair of Bristol Rotarians, Larry Gile and Bill Paine, were no doubt having a profound intellectual discussion about the Declaration of Independence. Then they had another drink and the outhouse races were born.
This year the race is managed by Bristol’s Shawn Oxford. “I love the quirkiness and the way it brings the community together,” he told me when I asked him why he took on such a profound responsibility. “In the beginning, people were racing actual outhouses.”
In some parts of this proud nation, people do nothing more than pay homage to the Revolutionary War patriots on the Fourth of July. We certainly do that here in this corner of Addison County; we have our re-enactors on parade. But we also have the courage to begin the big day by racing the restrooms of freedom. Here’s to the fireworks in the sky — and in the thunderbox!
(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on June 30, 2013. Chris’s new novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” goes on sale on July 9. Your can learn more about it here.)