As New Hope‘s evolution picks up pace (see the River House at Odette’s, The Landing, and the recent run of residential construction along North Main Street), our appreciation for the shrinking list of things that feel quintessentially New Hope grows.
At or near the top of that compilation is the High Heel Drag Race, which is quickly coming up on its 20th anniversary. This year’s installment will be held October 24 on Mechanic Street. As of this writing, a time had not yet been announced. It will likely go down around 4:30 PM, which was when the 2019 edition – the last because of the pandemic – was held.
Glamour trumps grit
It’s hard to say if the founders thought of the race as anything more than a publicity stunt. It’s safe to say, however, that they couldn’t have envisioned it becoming what it is today. The race was conceived and presented, originally, by the Greater New Hope Chamber of Commerce. New Hope Celebrates, the nonprofit that stages the town’s annual Pridefest, as well as a slew of other LGTBQ+ events throughout the year, took over in 2015 and promptly made the race a destination affair.
At least one aspect, however, has remain unchanged over all those years: From its inception, the High Heel Drag Race has been about inclusivity. Yes, it’s a magnet for drag queens. But, every year, the field also features a number of men and women running in heels for the very first time.
And the hundreds who crowd the sidewalks along the race route – a relatively short, steep stretch of Mechanic Street (as if sprinting in heels wasn’t enough of a challenge) – reflect that diversity. Young kids and older adults alike shout for photo opps and ask the racers about what they’re wearing, turning the route into a red carpet of sorts.
In 2019, I met Lady Nutella in a private parking lot on Bridge Street with my wife and our then-two-year-old son, and we helped her change into an elaborate costume and then escorted her – very, very slowly – to the race. As we neared the start line, she was stopped constantly and asked for photos. To this day, that was my closest brush with a celebrity.
Two minutes of total insanity
Some of the competitors are there to race. Most, though, just want to be a part of the action – which is, by any definition – utterly ridiculous. For all the pageantry and reverence of the moments beforehand, the race itself is about two minutes of total insanity.
You have a field of about 20 people. The most serious contenders line up at the front of the pack and charge up the hill in heels and drag. Among the rest, some strut awkwardly and others stroll casually, prioritizing being seen over winning. Everyone is carrying a pumpkin. (Pause.) Yep, a pumpkin.
When they reach the canal bridge at the top of the hill, they must scribble a face on their pumpkin. Only once it’s approved by a judge can they turn and head back down the hill, to the finish line. (And you thought going uphill in heels was the hard part.)
Describing it now, it doesn’t feel nearly as absurd as I remember it looking. You need to also imagine at least a handful of the racers treating this like their one last shot at athletic glory: The pumpkin clutched in one arm like a football, the other outstretched. An expression like everything is on the line.
At the 2019 race, I used my son’s face as a barometer. At first, he was maybe the most confused he’d ever been. That quickly morphed into awe and then giddiness. For the rest of that afternoon and night, he rattled off an endless stream of questions and observations at 2.5 speed. And then, as we were saying goodnight, he asked, “When I grow up, can I race too?”
He’s several years away from that day, but there’s still time for you to enter this year’s race. You can register here.