The sport of bathtub racing is 50 years old in British Columbia, but it is coming to Pekin for the first time this year.

In 1967, Nanaimo, British Columbia city officials decided to showcase their community by inventing a new sport. In a world premiere, participants in the Nanaimo to Vancouver Great International World Championship Bathtub Race plied their bathtub boats across the Strait of Georgia, a distance of about 36 miles. On Aug. 17, the City of Pekin will invite area residents to board their tubs and cast off for a voyage along Court Street in the inaugural Pekin Bathtub Races. City Manager Tony Carson saw the event when he was working in municipal government in Berlin, Md., and introduced bathtub races to Painesville, Ohio, when he was city manager there. 

“I saw how successful bathtub races were in Berlin, and how the community really got behind it,” Carson said. “It was a really fun event for families and for the participants. It’s a great team-building exercise. Businesses and employee groups can get together to design and race a bathtub.”

Because the races will not take place on the Strait of Georgia or even on the Illinois River, the event will more resemble a pushcart derby than a maritime contest. 

“Bathtub races have been done in small towns all across the country, and they’ve been a big hit,” said Deputy Pekin City Clerk Nicole Stewart. “We’ll have contestants build their own bathtubs. But you can’t take the term literally. It doesn’t have to be a bathtub. It just has to be large enough to hold two gallons of water. It can be a cart of some kind, or a bicycle, or a cooler. Anything a person can sit in.”

Other requirements for entries in the Pekin Bathtub Races will be that each vessel be equipped with wheels, a means of steering and brakes. Each bathtub must have a two-person crew: a driver to push and a rider to steer. 

“If we have participants who aren’t able to create their own bathtubs, we have a few pre-constructed tubs available,” Stewart said. “So, if someone doesn’t have time to build a tub, they might still be able to race.”

Stewart anticipates that the races will consist of several heats before a final champion is declared in the evening. The first-place winner will receive a $150 cash prize. The second-place team will receive a $100 prize, third-place contestants will receive $75, and another $50 will be awarded to the fourth-place team.

“We’re trying to get businesses involved,” she said. “We’re allowing them to promote their businesses by having racers carry their advertisements on the sides of bathtub carts.”

The event will begin at 4:30 p.m. on the 400 block of Court Street and will continue until approximately 9 p.m. Food and beverage vendors and face-painting booths will also be available. The Pekin Bathtub Races are the first of the events the city has planned in the weeks leading up to the Marigold Festival. The Court Street Block Party will be held Aug. 31, and the Pekin Family Fun Fest will take place Sept. 7.

To sign up as a contestant for the Pekin Bathtub Races or for more information, visit www.enjoypekin.com. Registration forms are also available at Pekin City Hall.