October 2007 Issue
Richard Norris, a retired schoolteacher from Trimble, scans the horizon, anxiously waiting to catch sight of his team proceeding swiftly into the home stretch. Like any dedicated coach, he has spent many months — and in some cases years — training his racers, preparing for this day. However, Norris’ runners will not be arriving on foot. The squadron — 25 to 50 speedy racing pigeons — is en route via air. (Continued on page 12)
Norris, 63, has been racing pigeons for five years. His birds log 100 to 600 miles during a contest, and can reach average speeds of 45 mph in calm winds and 80 mph in tail winds.
“My function is like that of a sports coach,” Norris says. He begins preparing his young charges by releasing them at the end of his driveway, not far from their loft. Norris gradually extends that distance until they can successfully return home from 80 miles away.
“Pigeons have been used to carry messages for thousands of years,” Norris says. “They were limited to their natural abilities until people became interested in racing them.”
Pigeons, he adds, make well-equipped distance racers because of their instinctive ability to navigate back to their home. “They naturally want to return,” he says.
The evening before race day, contestants are shipped overnight to the starting line, which is usually in Kentucky, Tennessee or Alabama. Their trailers contain all the comforts of home, including water and shelter from the wind. During the race — which concludes in Ohio — times are clocked to the nearest tenth of a second, using a computerized system that responds to a chip contained
in a leg band affixed to the pigeon. Velocity is measured
in yards per minute. The bird with the fastest average speed wins.
Norris, a member of the Hocking Valley Racing Pigeons Club, describes members as a close-knit group. “Most of the racing is done for bragging rights,” he says with a laugh. Norris has much to boast about. Last year, Whiskers, a favorite member of his flock, ranked fourth nationally in racing points earned.
“I was very proud of him,” Norris says.