BANGOR, Maine — Tiffany Strout became a racing champion Sunday afternoon at the 160th Bangor State Fair.
The 13-year-old Veazie girl showed off her prizes — a yellow duck-billed visor and a duck-shaped whistle that made a quacking sound — outside the pen where her champion paddler had retired to dry out its feathers.
Tiffany’s mallard beat out three others to win the 2 p.m. heat at the Great American Duck Race.
“I love animals. I think the duck could sense that,” Tiffany said after the race when asked to explain her winning strategy. “I had to hold on tight because it would try to fly and get away.”
The race was part of this year’s Bangor State Fair, which opened July 31 and closed Sunday night.
As of Saturday night, 63,000 people had attended, said Mike Dyer, director of Bass Park, where the fair is held each year. On Sunday afternoon, he estimated that the final attendance would be 66,000 to 67,000, more than twice the population of Bangor. Last year, just 42,000 people attended, Dyer said.
“Our five-year attendance average is 59,000, so we’re up from that,” he said. “That is good news.”
Dyer attributed the increase in attendance to the $10 pay-one-price admission, excellent weather and a good entertainment package that included the racing ducks and the popular Tigers of India show, featuring Bengal tigers from the Marcan Tiger Preserve in Holmes County, Fla.
Robert Duck, the self-described “chief quacker” of Bosque Farms, N.M., brought his mallards to Maine for the first time this summer to take part in the fair.
He and his flock of 33 racing birds, six males and 27 females, have been on the road since January.
“We’ve been from Long Beach, California, to Bangor, Maine, and from Orlando, Florida, to Portland, Oregon,” Duck, 59, said in between shows Sunday. “In mid-October, we’ll go home until next year.”
Duck — his real name — sort of fell into duck racing.
A 23-year member of the New Mexico Army National Guard, he owned a jewelry store in Albuquerque, N.M., from 1979 to 1999, he said.
Coincidentally, he had two pet ducks in 1980 when the duck races began in Deming, N.M., a town on the Mexican border.
“I heard about it on the radio,” he said, “and thought it would be fun to enter my pets. I had them because of my name, but they did well.”
One of Duck’s ducks came in third the first year and first for the next 12 years, he said. He won so often that race organizers finally changed the rules so people could no longer train and race their own ducks.
One of his ducks holds the world record for speed, he said, paddling the 16-foot course in 0.83 seconds.
Each year, Duck breeds about 150 mallards. He and his family train them on the 16-foot, four-lane course used for fair races. Each duck is banded and numbered so it can be identified. The ducks are timed with a stopwatch on the “racetrack.” Duck keeps the fastest 25 to 30 and releases the rest into the wild.
The wings of the mallards in the show are clipped to keep them from flying away, he said. They travel in wire crates inside an air-conditioned trailer, which Duck pulls behind the camper truck he sleeps in at fairs and other shows.
“The most fun part for me,” Duck said Sunday, “is when they name their ducks for the final race. A couple of years ago at a show in Oregon, I asked this girl what she wanted to name hers. She said, ‘This duck is kind of cranky. I’m going to call her Mom.’”
For more information on the Great American Duck Race, visit www.racingducks.com.