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A (bad) idea whose time has come (and gone): Orange County went to the elephant races in the 1960s

February 4, 2010 |  5:44 pm

What happens when you mix college students and elephants, throw in a lone turtle for good measure, and set them all loose on a racetrack? One thing's for sure: Zaniness will ensue. Columnist Steve Harvey recounts the tale of Orange County's long-defunct Elephant Racing Club. Although we hasten to say that we thoroughly disapprove of the idea of racing elephants -- it's just asking for trouble, are we right? -- we thoroughly enjoyed reading Harvey's column. Here's an excerpt:

Elephant race Just how an Elephant Racing Club materialized at Orange County State College, now Cal State Fullerton, in 1962 is a matter of debate.

One story credits a whimsical bureaucrat who drew up the application for forming clubs on campus. Next to the space marked "Name," he wrote "Elephant Racing Club" as a hypothetical example.

Another version credits the dean of students, who had taught in India.

He supposedly joked about a pachyderm competition when students were searching around for a spring-madness-type exercise.

Whatever the explanation, the Elephant Racing Club was formed, and challenges for a competition were sent to several schools.

Some cynics recall that the theory was that no one would respond, enabling Orange County State to declare itself the winner.

But the Coast Guard Academy signed up, mentioning that it had an elephant donated by Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, for some good deed.

After several days of negotiations, though, the academy admitted that the elephant was nonexistent. The school's football coach commented, "I've got some guys who move like elephants," but he didn't want to enter any of them in the race.


Photo: Remesh Mehra, on an elephant named Capt. Hook, displays a plaque from the race, which was held at a cornfield on the rural campus of what is now Cal State Fullerton. Credit: Cal State Fullerton

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