A Day at the Races

Aromatherapy candles are snuffed and the yogic afterglow fades. Suddenly, in place of the Southern California calm, a stronger urge takes hold. You crave the adrenaline rush from all things fast and furious; you need the hustle and flow. But you’ve passed on “Tina” (that’s crystal meth, but you knew that), deciding that she isn’t really your speed, and the Highway Patrol is draining your bank account. Time to consider some healthier, more socially acceptable ways to feed that need for speed.

The Tortoise and the Hare Pin Turn
Turtle Racing

Brennan’s Pub, in Marina del Rey, gives new meaning to the term “pub crawl.” Once upon a time (every Thursday night at 9 p.m.), turtles in seven classes, from “Midget” to “Monster,” race for the title of fastest turtle. It’s BYOT, or you can rent from the bar’s own pool of house creatures. “The turtles vary in size and height, but they’re mostly red-eared sliders,” explains Brennan’s owner, Steve, as if the different turtle species are common knowledge. It’s not surprising that Steve knows, though, as this year marks the 30th anniversary of Brennan’s turtle racing.

Waiting for the event to begin on the outdoor patio, watchers saunter up to the “Turtle Bar,” a late-night gas-station-style window to the inside bartender. Sipping beers and Turtle Night drink specials like $2 tropical Kamikaze shots, they choose favorites. Turtle naming is key to earning emotional support from the 350 nightly bar attendees. In the past, Golden Shlong, Soup-If-You-Lose and Clitortoise have been winners.

As tension mounts, the shelled athletes are lined up in a pen on the 16-foot track. When the plastic door is opened, the turtles are off toward the white line at lightning — okay, more like molasses — speed. The announcer also acts as judge, as the turtles race, neck and neck, shell and shell. You can root enthusiastically, but don’t cross that announcer — this is not a lawless town. Pointing at the turtles tends to make them stop, which results in a restart and a penalty for the offending pointer. A $3 fine is imposed on anyone who sticks a finger in the track’s direction; rowdier watchers may find they owe even more. All fines go to charity, though.

Despite that competitive itch that makes you want your turtle to cross the white line a nose (or face) ahead of the rest, as much as you want that pretty blue ribbon, rules are rules. Slow and steady wins the race. 4089 Lincoln Blvd., Marina del Rey; (310) 821-6622 or www.brennanspub-la.com/racing.htm.

Rolling With the Homies
L.A. Derby Dolls, Roller Derby League

Roller skates may evoke rainbow knee socks, disco balls and sidewalk play for most, but for the L.A. Derby Dolls, roller skates mean combat, stamina and speed. Established as recently as October 2003 by Rebecca Ninburg (a.k.a. Demolicious) and her pal Wendy Templeton (a.k.a. Thora Zeen), the first all-girl banked-track roller-derby league has quickly become the Suicide Girls of the skating world — minus the nudity.

Refs like Louis Cipher, Bitchy Kitten, Slamazon and SheRex blow a whistle to signal the start of the two halves. Tough, but also lovably girlie, the lascivious ladies may be from any of four teams: Trust Fund Terrors, Sirens, Tough Cookies and Fight Crew. A quiz on their site tells you to which team you’d be best suited. Personally, I’m a Trust Fund Terror.

During games, four dolls in skintight outfits from each of two teams take the rink. Three of the out-for-blood ladies are blockers, and one is the jammer, who has 60-second stints called “jams” to crash at full speed through the other team’s blockers and rejoin the back of her own pack. She gets points for each opponent she whips past. “Just think of racing on that track in your quad-wheel skates, wind in the hair; it’s like you’re flying,” describes Evil E, the team’s PR person. “These are the kind of girls that may knock you down on the track, but they will take you to the hospital afterward.”

Part John Waters, part Clueless, and a little bit NASCAR, this event features ladies who take “fast” as a compliment. “Skates, skirts, skills and scrapes” is how they describe themselves. “We’re half clad, all bad.” Welcome to the dollhouse. www.derbydolls.com.

A Horse, of Course
Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

Go fetch the white gloves and binoculars. No, not for a murder à la Clue! But for a day at the races, in old-school style, at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Established in 1937 by Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien, this traditional track has always attracted “ladies” and “gentleman” of the classiest order. The old Hollywood attendees included such luminaries as W.C. Fields, Ava Gardner, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz and Betty Grable.

Clearly the track has a legacy to uphold. As elegant and reputable as Churchill Downs (the Kentucky Derby’s site), Del Mar has been home to many his toric occasions. Perhaps the most significant was in 1938, when underdog Seabiscuit came back to beat Ligaroti by a nose. In fact, boasting impressive views from the west side of the grandstands, the Seabiscuit Skyroom Patio is named for the improbable winner.

During the 43-day racing season, from June 20 to September 7 (dark Tuesdays excluded), Del Mar’s organizers do everything they can to accommodate their patrons, especially young people. The College Club allows discounted admission for students, while 5-to-12-year-olds play at Camp Del Mar, which offers everything from animal-themed crafts to gymnastics to miniature golf. Regular Friday concerts take place, as well as a couple of special Saturday shows, including an August 27 Reggae Fest featuring Ziggy Marley. Active military personnel are always comped, not surprisingly, since the park doubled as a Marine training ground during World War II. In fact, on D-day, in 1945, attendees bet a record $958,476 in celebration.

These days, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club brings in almost $600 million a season. The closing of the doors on September 7 will commence a celebration called Party in the Paddock — the area where horses are assembled pre-race — to defuse any post-season letdown. The drama and excitement of former days at Del Mar are still inherent in both the horses’ speeds and the betting odds. At all times, money and pride are on the line, shooting adrenaline through onlookers’ veins. Sixty-eight years after opening, there’s still fast living at Del Mar. 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar; (858) 755-1141 or (858) 793-5533.

Love Is a Battlefield
Speed Dating

From Mexican Cantina to Good Fellas Restaurant to the Radisson Hotel, speed-dating singles (we hope) sign up to get it over with as quickly as possible. Generally, 10 to 12 people of each gender within roughly a 10-year age range attend — sorry, Nicolas Cage. The women wait daintily with pens poised above “match sheets” to judge each man who lands across the table. The men make notes of potential interest as they scurry to the next waiting woman. Each couple is given just six minutes to bond or nauseate. Organizers suggest coming up with questions in advance: “What are your hobbies?” or “When was the last time you lied?,” they recommend. We prefer: “Do you have a need for speed?”

If the less than two-hour process ends and you’re officially considering either suicide or an arranged marriage, the company offers a guarantee: Next session is free — yippee! Also, no one gets your contact information until after your matches are tallied — bad news for stalkers. Assuming a few pre-dates seemed promising, after 24 hours you’re free to make a love connection. Cupid’s arrow may have an odd trajectory, but it is fast and painless. www.pre-dating.com/speeddating/LA.php.

Knock Down, Drag Out
Pomona Raceway

These days, there are no shoddy cars to be found at Pomona Raceway; in fact, cars must be specialized. Driver sponsorship comes at the hefty price of $2.5 million and up. Though the track was originally established as an alternative to racing signal to signal, keeping drag teens like Danny Zuko off the streets, Pomona Raceway hosts some of the industry’s most important events. The National Hot Rod Association’s (NHRA) February season opener, Carquest Autoparts Winternationals, has been held at this, the oldest venue on the circuit, since 1961. The season closer in November, the Auto Club of Southern California Finals, has unfolded here since 1984. In 1992, a $4.5 million renovation project was completed, which included a new timing tower and 40,000 grandstand seats, inviting even more attention.

At the major races, 300 cars may be competing. When the starting signal goes off, drivers shoot down a half-mile straightaway track, accelerating to 330 miles per hour. In an instant, $3 million worth of cars may be destroyed. In an instant, one zooming speed demon is deemed the winner. 2780 Fairplex Drive, Pomona; (909) 593-7010 or www.pomonaraceway.com/trackinfo/.

T.N.T.
Team in Training

They say L.A. has no seasons. But at Southern California’s Team in Training headquarters, the year is definitely divided. In four-month training sessions defined by winter, spring, summer and fall, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society guides athletes of all skill levels to competition in half/full marathons, 100-mile bicycle century rides, triathlons, and adventure racing, which includes sports like kayaking and mountain biking.

Each participant works toward a specific event, receiving coaching and Saturday-morning workouts with Team in Training to improve form and technique, develop race strategies, and strengthen against injury. The organization supplies room and board, airfare and a “Pasta & Victory” dinner at each event. In exchange, the athlete must choose an inspirational honoree and raise money, 75 percent of which goes back to cancer research and patient services. In fact, the Society donated a large sum of money, raised in part from Team in Training, that resulted in the development of Glevac, an important new cancer drug.

The exercise and training increase strength and, of course, help control weight. So, in a way, you could say participants are running for their lives. And since the proceeds go to cancer research, in a way, you could say they’re running for other people’s lives as well. Contact Mary Lee Walsh, campaign coordinator, at (310) 846-4720 or (310) 216-7600. 6033 W. Century Blvd., Suite 300.

Dragon Slaying
Killer Guppies Dragon Boat Team

“The dragon dares not cross the river if it is not the most furious one,” says an old Chinese proverb adopted as mantra by the Killer Guppies, a Southern California Dragon Boat team. Established for a 1999 Long Beach tournament, the team has grown from an untrained motley crew to a winning motley crew, with uniforms.

Although the name “Guppies” might suggest gay urban professionals, the team is actually made up of people from all walks of life. Mostly they employ the “Friendster” method of recruitment: pals of current paddlers most often join. Still, outsiders can paddle with the fishes via the team’s Web site. Prac­tices are at 8 a.m. on weekends in Naples — Naples, Long Beach, that is.

Under the guidance of Filipino coach Nathan Salazar (whose name even sounds hardcore), the Guppies have begun to compete internationally, traveling as far as Shanghai, China. China is, of course, where the sport originated, when Qu Yuan, a statesman, warrior and poet, was wrongly accused of treason and drowned himself in the Mi Lo River. Fishermen rushed in boats to recover his body. The sport began as a re-enactment of the historic event. Now “racers” (never called rowers, because rowers face backward) compete to “get some tin” or win medals all over the world. During races there are 16 to 20 paddlers onboard, as well as a drummer, who guides them and sets the cadence.

Just as the sport has been made more contemporary, the Killer Guppies have modernized their inspirational Chinese proverb. Their new motto is much simpler: Kill . . . kill . . . kill! (213) 473-6200.