In front of a crowd of about 30 to 40 people last weekend at Skansie Brothers Park in downtown Gig Harbor, eight contestants geared up for perhaps the most cutthroat and intense competition of their lives.
The inaugural, quasi-resurrected event, sponsored by Gig Harbor Brewing Co. and benefiting the Harbor History Museum, pitted contestants against each other on adult-size bouncy balls adorned with rooster heads, wings and tails.
“It was quite a sight to see,” said Gig Harbor Brewing Co. owner John Fosberg. “Some really big dudes got onto those things. There were some wipeouts, some guys that went head over heels.”
The track featured flags, racing lines and a finish line, as well as some fun prizes for the winners.
“It went 10 times better than we thought it would,” Fosberg said.
The race, on its face, seems totally nonsensical, but is actually a nod to a unique slice of Gig Harbor history. It all started in 1935, when a Gig Harbor entrepreneur named Clarence E. Shaw created the rooster races.
Except instead of bouncy balls, Shaw actually used live roosters. He built a miniature 80-foot oval racetrack — in the vein of say, Kentucky’s famed Churchill Downs — lined with a miniature village called “Roosterville.” He put jockey shirts on the roosters for easy identification and hired local girls to be Roosterettes.
The Rooster Races made national news and in 1938, when Shaw and his roosters were whisked to New York to race in Madison Square Garden. The Rooster Races continued to be a Gig Harbor tradition until the novelty finally wore off in 1948.
One of Gig Harbor Brewing’s most popular offerings is nicknamed the Racing Rooster Red, a red ale that Fosberg said is the No. 1 seller at the downtown Gig Harbor taproom. Fosberg wanted to pay homage to Gig Harbor’s history with the beer, and the light-hearted competition.
“I thought it was hilarious that he came up with the idea of racing roosters around a track,” Fosberg said. “We pulled a lot of our beer names from historical events around Gig Harbor. It was just natural for us to try to make this happen.”
Fosberg said the event will definitely return next year, after the contestants vowing to return for another shot at inflatable rooster glory.
Interested in trying some local beer? The Gig Harbor Brewing Co. taproom is located at 3155 Harborview Dr., right next door to Skansie Park. The taproom is open seven days a week.
“It’s a wonderful location,” Fosberg said. “We just got our outdoor seating plan approved, so we’ll have some outdoor seating before the summer is over. We’ve got large televisions, air condition, shuffleboard, and more.”
The taproom is open to those age 21 and over and also serves wine and cider.