Are you ready for some springtime fun in the Florida Keys? If so, there’s an event coming up in April that should “put that spring back in your step.” It includes local residents and visitors alike who become “female impersonators” for the afternoon. The flamboyant group of “dragsters” will gather on Key West’s Duval Street for a playful parody of an auto race, swapping high-speed cars for high-heeled shoes and drag apparel while sprinting along an improvised racetrack on Saturday, April 16.
Costumes, wigs, makeup and towering heels are a must for entrants in the quirky drag race. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)
The offbeat Conch Republic Drag Race will be staged in the 700 block of Duval, the appropriately nicknamed “main drag” at the heart of our island’s LGBTQ entertainment district.
Presented by the Petronia St. Neighborhood Association and headquartered outside the LGBTQ hotspot Bourbon St. Pub, the zany race will start with a test run at 2 p.m., followed by qualifying heats and finals, and (last but not least) the awards ceremony. Wouldn’t the coveted first-place trophy be a fabulous Key West souvenir to take home?
The traditional auto-racing atmosphere will be spoofed by its uber-creative organizers dressed as “pit crew” with checkered flags, while a local DJ blares the roar of revving engines.
The event’s main attraction, however, is the female impersonators (a.k.a. drag queens) competing in pancake makeup, extravagant wigs and race-mandated high-heeled footwear. They’ll attempt to dash down the pavement faster than their rivals while trying to avoid wipeouts, twisted heels, and the dreaded delay of wardrobe repairs.
The racers must navigate an obstacle course of tires and various other street hazards (which may include a random lost wig or two) as spectators cheer for their favorites. The “dragsters” also get a diva-style ride along Duval Street in shopping carts transformed into “hot rods” propelled by hunky local male dancers.
Race registration is free for all contestants willing to don the required towering heels and eccentric drag attire. If you don’t have any “drag wear” on hand, have no fear. Just put in a request via the “coconut telegraph” while you’re out and about in the Pink Triangle, and you’ll be surprised at the offers of assistance you will receive.
A hapless competitor is pushed in a souped-up shopping cart during a past Conch Republic Drag Race. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)
What IS the Pink Triangle? Centered around the 700 and 800 blocks of the iconic Duval Street, it features a cluster of popular LGBTQ bars, entertainment clubs and stores. The area is also home to four permanent rainbow crosswalks that the city installed in May 2015.
(BTW, another great resource for some “women’s wear” is the Key West Salvation Army thrift store, located at 1924 Flagler Ave. You can find a “drag appropriate” outfit, help out a worthy charity and not have to break the bank.)
The drag challenge is part of Key West’s 40th annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration that takes place April 15-24. The festival commemorates the Florida Keys’ symbolic 1982 secession from the United States (believe me, it’s a long story!) and the formation of the independent republic.
Organizers describe this year’s celebration as 40-plus unique, colorful and “somewhat historical” events, packed into 10 fun-filled days. Among its highlights (and what I like to refer to as “only in the Keys events”) are a ceremony commemorating the secession, a lighthearted sea battle featuring tall ships, the so-called “World’s Longest Parade” that proceeds along Duval Street from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, and a “Conch Crawl & Pup Stroll” benefiting the Florida Keys SPCA.
So what are you waiting for? Head down to Key West for some springtime sun and fun!
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