Pumpkin Races a unique tradition in downtown Oswego
By Linda Girardi For Sun-Times Media October 20, 2013 7:50PM
The pumpkins were off in the 4th annual Pumpkin Races sponsored Saturday by the Oswegoland Optimist Club, an adult service organization known for its commitment to youth. | Linda Girardi ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 22, 2013 6:21AM
Most people carve pumpkins for Halloween decorations or dice them for homemade pie.
Others prefer to use their ingenuity and watch them race on wheels down a hill.
On Saturday, the Oswegoland Optimist Club — an adult service organization known for its commitment to youth — hosted its annual Pumpkin Races at the corner of Main and Jackson streets in the downtown.
A few hundred spectators cheered as more than 25 pumpkins, entered in heats of four, raced to the finish line to win the coveted distinction of first place.
“It’s especially fun to see the kids watch the pumpkins go,” said Jennifer Goehring of Oswego.
Some of the gourds veered into the curb or spun in circles and needed some prodding to get them going again, but some of them did make it straight to the finish line.
Matt Senft of Plainfield, his wife Haley, and their 5-year-old son Logan, decorated a “monster mayhem” green-painted pumpkin on four wheels.
The family decorated the gourd using paper towel rolls for the exhaust system and won first place in one of the races.
“My husband did most of the engineering,” Haley Senft said.
Race rules require the pumpkins to have independent axles, and anything else is in risk of being declared “a cheater” and smashed with an over-sized wooden mallet — which occasionally is done intentionally for the fun of it but mostly to teach a lesson that “cheaters never prosper.”
Kandra Witkowski, her husband Randy, and her brother Kyle Breyne entered two pumpkins. One resembled the Peanuts character Snoopy, but the larger gourd was disqualified because it was on a wood platform equipped with caster wheels.
“The whole idea is to have fun, and the Optimist Club uses their donations for great causes,” Kandra Witkowski said.
Tina Conley, club secretary, suggested the pumpkin races to the Optimist Club four years ago as a way to support its recreational and educational activities for children.
Businesses donated $25 for their entries, and children donated three canned goods for their participation that will all go toward the annual Christmas Families Project.
Cathy Katz, Optimist Club president, said last year’s Christmas project served 85 families.
“This is our largest turnout,” Katz said of this year’s races.
“This involves the kids in the community, which we try to do for all of our events.”
Oswego Village President Brian LeClercq was part of the crowd at Saturday’s races.
“It is truly a community event anyone can wrap their arms around,” LeClercq said, “and with a little creativity you can see the imagination of the folks.”