One of my favorite mottos is “Key West — Close to Perfect, Far From Normal.” That pretty much sums up life in the Florida Keys, especially when it comes to our countless and sometimes “over the top” special events held throughout the year. We take the “thinking outside the box” concept to a whole new level (in so many ways!).

Drag race Key West

Female impersonators compete in wigs, dresses and high heels during a past Great Conch Republic Drag Race, an element of the Conch Republic Independence Celebration. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

For example, in April our drag queens, along with host Bourbon St. Pub Complex, take what I consider a very high-testosterone sporting event — auto racing — and “gay things up a bit” to create their very own version of a drag race.

Dragsters dress up in outlandish sporting costumes and towering high-heeled shoes to sprint to the finish line during the Great Conch Republic Drag Race, a wacky competition scheduled Saturday, April 21. (I was amazed at the turnout last year, with about 1,700 people gathering to watch the festivities.)

The 700 block of the renowned Duval Street (where most of our gay bars and shops are located, by the way) is transformed into a challenging speedway for the dragsters.

The venue generally includes a makeshift starting gate, pit stops, a finish line, viewing areas and even streetside food and beverage outlets.

The first qualifying heats are scheduled for 2 p.m.-ish with finals at 5 p.m.-ish (in our laid-back Eastern “island” time zone).

The avant-garde auto-racing extravaganza revs up the entertainment level with organizers decked out as “pit crew and race officials,” while an island DJ blares the sounds of horns and revving engines.

Drag racers Key West

Drag racers are pushed in souped-up shopping carts on Duval Street during the wacky challenge for high-heeled competitors. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

However, the crowd’s attention is usually focused on the absolutely hysterical drag performers who forgo the typical race-car cockpit for full-on “heels on the pavement,” flawless makeup and their wigs du jour.

Race officials require participants to wear heels high enough to provide some dizzying action on the hairpin turns. Competition gets increasingly fiercer as the “queens” speed down the street past their rivals while trying to avoid spills, high-heel blowouts and wardrobe malfunctions.

Don’t be surprised if you see some “Fairy Dust” rising from the race track, reminding everyone that this event may be perfectly entertaining but it’s far from normal.

Spectators cheer the drag racers as they attempt to navigate various road hazards that can include anything from tires to the occasional dropped wig.

Final heats include some refueling stops (generally alcohol based) and then a heart-pumping “back up” lap.

During this round participants get a “diva-style” ride down the track in supercharged shopping carts propelled by hunky male dancers showing off their physiques.

Female impersonator Key West Drag Race

Lovely contestant Nigel Haugland leaps across the finish line during a past year’s race. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Drag queens, other locals and visitors can register for the event free of charge. Bourbon St. Pub even plans to provide high-heeled shoes and costumes for entrants who might need them. (However, if you have some heels collecting dust in your closet, donations are always welcome!)

The drag competition is part of Key West’s 36th annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration. The 10-day festival commemorates the Florida Keys’ symbolic 1982 secession from the United States and formation of the independent island republic.

The celebration runs through Sunday, April 29, with events including a lighthearted sea battle and a “Barks & Brews Block Party” benefiting the Florida Keys SPCA.

So whether you’re almost perfect or far from normal, come see why the Florida Keys is the picture-perfect vacation spot to recharge your batteries and bask in our warm sunshine and balmy ocean breezes.

And if you need more info about the entertaining drag race, just call the New Orleans House guesthouse at 305-293-9800.

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