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Miss Vacant Lot of the World returns to Armadillo Fest

Sept. 3, 2011 at 4:03 a.m.

Julio Limon, left, races his armadillo, Cheapside, against James Dorsett's armadillo, Speedy, in the final round of the Armadillo Races at Armadillo Fest at Riverside Park  on Saturday afternoon. Cheapside came in first place.

Joe Keefe didn't walk away with a prize for the Armadillo Races in 1991. But on Saturday, he had an opportunity for redemption. He kept his eye on the prize before the race began.

"Those trophies ... I couldn't pass them," said the Refugio resident.

Keefe didn't place in the last race, but he still enjoyed himself. This time around he enlisted the help of his son-in-law, Jason Yandell. His armadillo's name was Cadillac to honor the United States.

"We thought about Lexus because of his smoothness," he said. "But we thought he should have an American name."

Everyone in the family wasn't on the same team. Keefe's nephew, Thomas Schaar, of Victoria, also entered the race.

"Of course, we're going to whip their butts," Keefe said jokingly.

Schaar just had fun catching "Ransom's Revenge." He and some friends trapped the armadillo at 3 a.m., the day of the competition.

Keefe, Yandell, and Schaar were just a few to attend the Armadillo Fest at Riverside Park. The Armadillo Races kicked off the all-day celebration. Other family-friendly events included the Miss Vacant Lot pageant, midget wrestling, a barbecue cook-off and musical concert.

Karen Janecka Gafford, a former Miss Vacant Lot, was glad the Armadillo Fest returned to Victoria. The 1975 contestant won because she set a record for holding the most pennies in her mouth.

Gafford said the original event was promoted more like a South Texas Woodstock. She said there weren't as many people at the modernized festival, but she wants the tradition to continue.

"Every town needs to have a festival, and Victoria should be known for the Armadillo Fest," she said.

Keefe didn't reveal any secrets about preparing for the race. In his mind, Cadillac was already a winner. The "champion" armadillo and Yandell entered the racing area. His first competitor was Bonny.

At first, Cadillac had a clear lead. But when he turned the corner, he was more concerned about digging a hole for some shade. He had a close encounter with members of the audience.

"This one is a crowd pleaser," Yandell said. In an upset, Bonny beat Cadillac in the first round.

The races were an entertainment highlight. Some of the armadillos had to be pulled out of their cages, others scurried away from the finish line. People handling the nocturnal animals began giving polite pushes to keep the race going.

After several rounds, Cheapside was declared the winner. His owner, Julio Limon, of Victoria received the first place trophy, and, of course, bragging rights.

Yandell graciously accepted Cadillac's fate, "He (Cadillac) was trained for a sprint."

His father-in-law, Keefe, said, "We'll be back next year."



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