Snail racing is a form of humorous entertainment that involves the racing of two or more air-breathing land snails, terrestrial pulmonate gastropod molluscs. Usually the common garden snail species Helix aspersa is used. This species is native to Europe, but has been accidentally introduced to many countries all over the world.
There are numerous snail racing events that take place in different places around the world, though the majority take place in the United Kingdom.
Snail races usually take place on a circular track with the snails starting in the middle and racing to the perimeter. The track usually takes the form of a damp cloth atop a table. The radius is traditionally set at 13 or 14 inches. Racing numbers are painted on the shells or small stickers or tags are placed on them to distinguish each competitor.
|“||It's always difficult to study the form with snails because they hide inside their shells - but it's actually much easier to commentate on the race because it's slower than horse racing.||”|
|— John McCririck, |
The annual "World Snail Racing Championships" started in Congham, Norfolk in the 1960s after founder Tom Elwes witnessed the event in France. The 1995 race saw the setting of the benchmark time of two minutes by a snail named Archie. The 2008 event had to be cancelled when the course was waterlogged by a prolonged period of heavy rain, only days after the death of Elwes. The 2008 World Championships was won by Heikki Kovalainen, a snail named after the Formula One racing driver, in a time of three minutes, two seconds. The 2010 World Championship was won by a snail called Sidney in a time of three minutes and 41 seconds.
The first official competitive live snail race in London, the "Guinness Gastropod Championship" held in 1999, was commentated by horse racing pundit John McCririck who started the race with the words "Ready, Steady, Slow". This is common terminology for the start of a race. The following year Guinness featured a snail race in their advertisement Bet on Black as part of their "Good things come to those who wait" campaign. The advert won the silver award at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival and was self-parodied for their "Extra Cold" campaign several years later.
The "Grand Championship Snail Race" began in Cambridgeshire in 1992 in the village of Snailwell as part of its annual summer fête. It regularly attracts up to 400 people to the village, more than doubling its usual population.
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- Irvine, Chris (2008-07-21). "World Snail Racing Championship won by Formula One driver's namesake". Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2010-07-19.
- The Inspiration Room | Daily. "Guinness TV Adverts". Accessed 5 August 2008.
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- BBC News. 13 July 2007. "Snails race well for village fete". Accessed 5 August 2007.