When I was visiting my friends and family in Houston last week, I made my way to midtown to visit a friend from high school. As we were just about to part ways, I saw a giant crowd of people standing around an arena in the outdoor section of a popular local bar called Little Woodrow’s. I asked my friend what was going on, and he said, “Oh, it’s turtle racing,” as if it were a completely normal thing to pass while walking along a downtown street in a major U.S. city.
He asked if I wanted to watch for a little bit because they were just getting started… and I was clearly fascinated by the idea.
“YEAH I DO!”
Side note: when I was in high school, I had two baby water turtles named Mike and Ike. I miss those little buggers.
With several other popular bars within walking distance, Little Woodrow’s hit the nail on the head when it comes to standing out from the crowd. This was a Thursday night at 9pm, and the place was completely packed with young working professionals ready to cheer on one of the ten turtles from the pack.
How it works
I spoke with Nick Menage (oversees operations for Little Woodrow’s in H-town) about turtle racing and how they came up with this idea.
“It started as a joke – we were sitting around and I asked if anyone had ever heard of turtle racing before. It started with just three people and a mic.”
At 9:00pm, patrons of Little Woodrow’s begin to line up to receive their free ticket to “bet” on a turtle (there is of course no money involved in this betting… just purely for bragging rights). Once people have their tickets, they all crowd around the arena (standing room only), and Menage, who also serves as the turtle-racing host, chooses a “bucket babe” from the crowd. This bucket babe is generally an attractive female who is chosen to lift the bucket off of the turtles to begin the race.
“The original bucket babe was a 6’4 redneck guy with tattoos everywhere… as you can see, it has evolved to what it is now,” said Menage.
Once the bucket is lifted off of the turtles, the race is on, and the first numbered turtle to reach the outside of the circle is the winner.
There are three rounds of racing, and the energy from the audience amplifies with each round.
Why it’s brilliant
If you’re not familiar with the landscape of midtown in Houston, it’s important to realize how many popular bars are in the area. On a Thursday night after work, you’ve got to stand out from the crowd if you want to bring in the dinero.
Before 5 years ago, the inception of this turtle-racing phenomenon, Thursday night was just Thursday night for the folks at Little Woodrow’s. Now, it’s Turtle Racing night, and people come from all over town to drink beer, win free swag, and cheer on their favorite turtle with their friends.
Do metaphorical turtle races for your business
There are infinite consultants floating around on the interwebs. There are millions of personal fitness trainers. There are tons of restaurants, bars, and small businesses doing the exact same thing that you’re doing to make money. Finding a way to set yourself apart from these people is the challenge, and the way to do that is to try as many things as you can until you find one that sticks.
“If someone said turtle racing would be what it is today when we first started, I would not have believed it. It’s a big deal for us,” Menage said. “There is a lot of competitive business – you gotta do something to set yourself apart.”
I, of course, had to check on the well being of these little turtles, so I asked if any turtles are harmed in the making of these races.
“I’ve had these turtles since they were little – we take care of them, and we hire a professional service to take care of them once a week. I have 10 turtles.”
If you’re ever in the Houston area on a Thursday night, these races are worth checking out in Midtown– if not for the cultural experience, go for the beer – they’re also known for that on other nights of the week!