Two Pendleton car dealers in February 1986 decided to stage a race down Main Street, pitting the best drivers they could find from around the world, in a bid to drum up customers during a slow time of year for their businesses. Specially built vehicles were brought in from Seattle just for the race. But special training was required prior to the big day because the racers — hamsters — were used to sleeping during daylight hours. The original brainstorming session had favored a turtle race, but hamsters were easier to procure.
Dave Rayburn, sales manager at Pendleton Ford, and Doug Bauch of Performance Chrysler each had a stable of the little furry creatures they were busily training for the big race. Special cars, powered by hamster exercise wheels, were the vehicles of choice. “We’ve had a little problem, since they’re nocturnal,” Rayburn said, as he used a foot to stop “Rambo,” who had left the practice track and was speeding backwards out of control. “We’ve been giving them vitamins and working out in the morning and they’re getting much, much better.”
Rayburn’s stable included, among others, “Critter Marquis” who boasted four-leg drive, fully independent suspension and a nonpolluting biodegradable fuel system; “Refrigerator,” who worked out consistently at 4:30 a.m.; and “Percival,” a four-year veteran who trained in the Andes Mountains and was making his U.S. debut in the Saturday spectacular.
The Bauch athletes included “Hemi Hamster,” a Detroit native who had been suspended from racing after taking payoffs; “Pepe Le Pue,” who turned out to be “Penelope Le Pue,” making a comeback after a near-fatal accident; and “Road-Runner,” an Arizona racer who trained in front of hungry coyotes.
Favorites for winning the contest were Ford’s “Bubba Da Rat,” described in his biography as an underdog with a fourth-grade education, and Chrysler’s “Mr. Zee,” a virtual unknown from the Blue Mountains who had a reputation for “winning at any cost.” Following the big race, a barbecue and live music were planned on Main Street.
Unfortunately, the East Oregonian did not cover the Saturday race, so the winner is unknown.