The Great American Duck Race

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One-Time Jeweler Discovers Web-Footed Gems

 Robert Duck heard all the jokes about his last name while growing up in New Mexico. Perhaps that’s how he developed his wonderful sense of humor.

            “There are only two ways you can react,” Duck said. “You either become an ax murderer or you roll with the punches and have the last laugh like I did. That’s how I got into duck racing.”

            Deming, N.M., is a small, sleepy town that 32 years ago was searching for something that would spice up its identity.

            “Some of the locals got together and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do something around here for excitement,’” Duck said. “One of the guys came up with having a duck race.

            “They hoped to get maybe 50 ducks entered in the race, and maybe 150 people would come out and watch it. They’d just have a good time and go home. But the national news media got hold of the story about a duck race being held in the middle of the desert, and the town has never been the same.”

            Duck owned a wholesale jewelry business in Albuquerque, 225 miles north of Deming, when he heard about the upcoming duck race. He had two pet ducks and a thought: Wouldn’t it be funny for a guy named Duck to enter a duck race in the desert?

            Duck experienced instant success. One of his ducks finished third out of 186 entrants.

            “We got all excited,” Duck said. “We got some more ducks and were able to train them better. The next year there were more than 400 entries. It had grown more than twice as big in just one year. I took down seven ducks – I called them the Magnificent Seven – and four made it to the championship race.

            “To make a long story short, we won first place 12 years in a row. We won more than $50,000 by racing ducks.”

            Because of his last name and because his ducks began to dominate the great desert race, Duck got a call asking him to appear on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Then Duck’s picture appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. People magazine called.

            “The publicity kept building,” Duck said. “I was getting calls for interviews from all over the United States. Calls even came from Australia and Canada. It was so much fun for me that I thought, ‘You know, there has to be a way I can make a living from this.’

            “I knew they raced pigs at fairs. So I thought, ‘Why not a duck racing show?’ We put it together and interest picked up. I sold my jewelry business in 1999, and we went into this full-time.”

            Robert and Kathy Duck will put their web-footed speedsters on display during the three-day Omaha Boat, Sports and Travel Show that opens January 9th, 2014 in the CenturyLink Center, Omaha. Although the ducks themselves are fun to watch, the premier attraction is the kids who are chosen to race the ducks.

            “You cannot watch a duck race without smiling,” Duck said. “It’s impossible. I love to watch the reaction of the kids. Some are afraid to touch a duck. It’s the first time that most of them have ever been that close to a duck.”

            Duck is not the only person to get into a business that goes with his last name. There are Carpenters who are in the construction business and Bakers who own doughnut shops. But Duck knows at least one who wants no part of a last-name business association.

            “A newspaper reporter who did a story on us two years ago was named Hooker,” Duck said. “She said she never had the urge to get into the business.”