It was Stumpy, by several shells, who crept across the blue finish line amid wild cheers to take first place in the Fourth Annual Turtle Race at St. Jane Frances School.
Over in the winner's circle, Stumpy's proud owner, 10-year-old Jessica Boss, said the turtle would receive a celebratory meal of worms and raw vegetables before being returned to the wilds of Pasadena, where he was found on a roadside Wednesday.
Stumpy didn't need training to reach his racing potential, Jessica said. Suburban living made him a natural. "He ran away from cars on the highway," the fourth-grader said.
Nobody timed Friday's races at the Catholic school in Riviera Beach. The closest they came to a photo finish was the click of parents' cameras as youngsters posed with their reptiles. Owners didn't talk of the breeding lines of their contestants; rather, they spoke of box, painted and water. No snappers allowed.
Raphael was the only turtle with a jockey. Bruce Taylor, 5, attributed his turtle's second-place spot to the fuzzy caterpillar inching around on Raphael, which the kindergartner said cheered the turtle on.
The turtle had been raised largely on tomatoes in Bruce's aunt's garden in Margate and would "go back to his family" there, Bruce said.
About 57 turtles participated, some in several races because they were jointly owned by siblings at the 450-student school, said Renee Hammond, the parent who organized the parking lot derby.
The track, such as it was, was bull's-eye shaped. Turtles started out in a circular cardboard gate in the center and, in theory, toddled outward 12 feet to the finish line. A red line a few feet further out kept an intimidating crowd at bay. Many a turtle ambled halfway at a snail's pace, stretched a neck toward screaming children, and headed back to the starter's circle. Others, despite such names as "Speedy," meandered. Several were named for the Ninja Turtle media stars.
Fifth-grader Tim Wise, 10, attributed Homer's disappointing fourth-place in his grade-level heat to all the shrieking. "When the people scream, I think it scares him," Tim said. Homer had showed great promise in the back yard.
Winners of the four heats for kindergarten to eighth grade vied for the school's top honor. But only three turtles raced. I. M. Quick had won the primary grades heats for second-grader Megan Schneider, then the junior high heats for her brother Brian, in seventh grade.
But when it came time for the big race, the water turtle pooped out.
4 "He's probably just a little tired," Brian said.
In the earlier heats, I. M. Quick lived up to his name. "When I first saw him take off, I thought that it was just luck. But when I saw where he was heading, I knew it wasn't luck," Brian said.
"Some of my friends petted him earlier in the hall. He headed right for the people he saw from the group," Brian said.
I. M. Quick had gone for Megan's friends as well. He was to get a tomato for his efforts before being released near the pond from which he had been borrowed.
The adage aside, slow and steady won few races. Fits and starts were more like it.
Ms. Hammond said she got the idea for the turtle derby from the annual July event held at the Rivera Beach library. Some of the children will keep their turtles for that race, but most will return them to the outdoors sooner. Turtle ownership is restricted in Maryland.
Riviera Beach librarian Peter England said this year's race on July 17 (starting time: 10 a.m.) is expected to draw up to 100 entrants -- even snapping turtles. "
"We welcome all turtles. We'll take anything," Mr. England said.
The race has been a tradition for nearly two decades.