Running of the Tubs returns to Hot Springs

Published 22 May 2017

Splish, splash, everybody in downtown Hot Springs is taking a bath.

The 12th annual Stueart Pennington Running of the Tubs is set for June 3, with the Parade of Tubs scheduled for a 9 a.m. start.

“It is about getting people outside and having a great time celebrating Hot Springs,” said Bill Solleder, special events manager for Visit Hot Springs. “There is definitely no better place to do a tub race than on Bath House Row.”

The two-day event will begin June 2 with the judging of the tubs at 6 p.m. The tubs are put into two categories: traditional and modified tubs, which include fiberglass or tin tubs.

“There are stipulations or rules all the teams have to follow,” Solleder said. “It is super fun and kind of ridiculous.

“It has kind of been a tradition, where the judges wear bathrobes and have the approval to make up the rules as they see fit.”

For example, a bathtub may be no smaller than 4 feet long and 2 feet wide, and there cannot be any motors or mechanical devices powering the tub. Each team consists of five people, with one riding in the tub and the other four pushing. Each team member must carry a bar of soap, a bathmat, a loofah and a bath towel, then cross the finish line with those items or face being disqualified.

“There are some very strict rules,” Solleder said.

This is the first year in which Solleder is organizing the event, but he has been a judge and a participant in years past.

“I am doing a little expansion this year for Friday night, (June 2),” Solleder said. “Usually, following the judging, there is a quick dance party.

“But this year, we are going to block off Exchange Street, right in front of the parking deck, and we are going to have a block party.”

He said there will be food and drinks and a lineup of bands playing, including a reggae band called The Irie Lions. The party will last till about 10 p.m.

Solleder said the event is free, but there will alcoholic drinks for sale, and proceeds from those sales will directly benefit the Downtown Merchants Association, which is responsible for the downtown Christmas lights every year in Hot Springs.

The racing will begin at 9:30 the next morning.

“The bathtub races are a family-friendly way of loading people down with some of the fun things our city offers visitors, while at the same time offering a gentle reminder of Hot Springs’ rich heritage as America’s Spa,” said Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs.

The highlight of the race will be the annual Battle of the Badge between the Hot Springs Fire Department and the Hot Springs Police Department.

“It is a special race that happens every year,” Solleder said. “They go at it every year, and they win a plaque that is the shape of a badge.

“The Fire Department won it last year, and the Police Department wants it back this year.”

The race is named after the late Stueart Pennington, who was really active in the downtown community. Solleder said Pennington always wanted to have some sort of bathtub race.

“After [Pennington] died suddenly, Steve Arrison and a few others wanted to fulfill his dream,” Solleder said. “The Pennington family leads the Parade of Tubs, and they will be back this year.”

Leysa Lowery, who has been involved with the race since its beginning, said she has caught a few water balloons in the face.

“One year, we were working one of the stops, and there was a whole group of kids with huge water guns and a huge tub of water balloons,” Lowery said. “So they kept hitting us, and we were trying to work our stop.

“Afterward, we had these buckets of water, and we dumped it on them.”

There are stops throughout the race. For example, last year, teams had to stop and pick up “road kill” and move it out of the way. Solleder said that this year, there will be a “herd of buffalo” trying to cross the street.

“Teams have to somehow coerce a ‘herd of buffalo’ out of the way,” he said. “One year, they made us sing ‘God Bless America’ or something, and that is really hard to do when you are out of breath and can’t remember the words.

“It was really funny.”

Visit Hot Springs will have its own tub in the race, and it will be led by team captain Nikki Haak, the visitor services assistant for Visit Hot Springs.

Her team will be dressed as characters from Scooby-Doo, and they have the tub to match. Haak said the tub took about a month to complete.

“I was really happy with it,” Solleder said. “One idea we had was to do Harry Potter, and me and another guy wanted to do a KISS tub.

“But Nikki put a really solid full idea, including the costumes, and bribing the judges with Scooby Snacks.”

Solleder said about 16 teams compete in the race, with two to three tubs running at a time. The cost is $25 per team, and the deadline to enter is Friday, but spaces are limited. For more information, visit hotsprings.org or contact Solleder at bsolleder@hotsprings.org or (501) 321-2027.

“The actual distance of the race is probably a quarter of a mile,” Solleder said. “It starts at the Arlington Hotel, and it ends at the Exchange Parking Deck, right before the Gangster Museum.”

Solleder said audience participation is key to the event’s success.

“We encourage spectators to bring water guns, Super Soakers and water balloons,” he said.

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.