When Steve Norman released 100 pigeons at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday morning, it was for a good reason.
On Saturday the Surry Sunrise Rotary Club held its first Flight for Kids. People bought tickets which bought them a bird in the race. The person whose bird was first to arrive back at Norman’s pigeon coop walked away $2,000 wealthier. The second place bird garnered $1,000 prize, and he or she who was pledged to the third place bird won $500.
Tickets for the event were $100, and the fourth place winner earned his or her ticket money back. One hundred tickets were sold. However, the real winner on Saturday was a program geared toward feeding children.
Rotary president Jeff Boyles said the fundraiser raised more than $7,000 for a backpack food program run by the Mount Airy and Surry County Schools. As part of the program, kids take a backpack filled with food home with them every weekend. It helps feed children on days when there is no school lunch or breakfast offered.
Saturday’s race was accompanied by a picnic for all those who purchased tickets. Boyles said support from a number of local businesses allowed the club to keep costs associated with the event low, allowing for most all money not used as prize money to be handed over to the backpack program.
Food Lion, Mount Airy Meat Center, Old North State Winery, The Dairy Center and Aunt Bea’s all donated food for the event, which included a drawing for pigeon assignment the night prior at the winery. Boyles said Interlam also donated a sign for the event.
Most stakeholders in the race gathered at Riverside Park for the picnic and Norman’s house for the arrival of the birds.
Norman said the pigeons were released at about 10 a.m. Saturday morning. He noted most, but not all, would return. He used almost all the pigeons he had available for the race, including “young” and “old” birds.
How the pigeons make it back to the “Taj Mahal of coops” in Norman’s backyard is unknown, noted Norman.
“They’ve been speculating forever,” said Norman. “Some believe they use the sun. Some say they use landmarks, and others think each place on earth has a slightly different gravitational pull.”
“If you ask my granddaughter, she’ll tell you it’s God.”
Norman said, while people don’t know what is behind the instinct, there is plenty known about pigeon racing. The pigeons, theoretically, will always return to the coop in which they were born.
The birds can fly up to 65 mph with the right tailwind, but their speed was likely about 40 mph on Saturday, said Norman.
The trip from Charlotte Motor Speedway also isn’t long for some of his more seasoned veterans. Norman said some of his birds have made the trip home all the way from Memphis, Tennessee. They don’t start out flying the marathon, however.
“I start mine at kindergarten,” explained Norman at a picnic pavilion at Riverside Park. “This is the first place I bring them usually.”
Then, Norman moves a little farther away each time. He said he also helps the birds by motivating them. He ensures the pigeons are hungry before their release. They return to fill their bellies. Allowing the birds a little time with the opposite sex can also be a great motivator.
Norman said his birds live the good life. Along with living in the “Taj Mahal of chicken coops,” they also eat “rib-eye” every day.
“Sometimes they even get the filet mignon,” said Norman.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached aat 415-4698.