Trotting at a pace between walking and stampeding, the 11 cows that took part in the first-ever “NASCOW” race Oct. 16 at Frying Pan Park in Herndon kept their eyes on the prize: brewer’s grain.
“If there’s one thing that makes a bovine run, it’s beer by-products,” said Chris Van Vlack, a former Frying Pan employee who served as the race’s announcer.
Marybelle, a brown-and-white, 4-year-old Guernsey that in May delivered a calf named Neptune, won the race.
The friends group held the NASCOW race in lieu of a large fund-raising event that was canceled because of the pandemic.
“I think it was an interesting way to deal with COVID,” said Laurel Marley, who serves as the farm’s main herd veterinarian. Marley grew up near Rockeby Farm Stables in McLean, and her parents still live in the community.
Promotional materials for NASCOW showed the race’s name in a slanted, all-capitals typeface familiar to fans of stock-car racing.
Donations for the event came from 12 states and a dozen companies, for a total of about 450 organizations and people, said Yvonne Johnson, park manager. Proceeds will go toward animal care, including food, medicine, veterinary bills, equipment and staff training, she said.
“It’s everything that’s linked to taking care of nearly 100 animals that live here,” she said.
Smokey, a 1-year-old Jersey/Noromande, and Hokie, a 3-year-old Angus, were the cows that received the most sponsorship. Burdick Equine Veterinary Services of Flint Hill, where Marley now works, sponsored Hokie.
Hokie, from Virginia Tech (naturally), escaped from the farm two years ago just a couple of weeks after she arrived and was tracked down on Route 28 heading toward Washington Dulles International Airport, Johnson said.
“It took a huge community effort to wrangle her back into the trailer and get her back to Frying Pan safely,” she said. “She’s been well-behaved ever since.”
Other bovine racers included Bandit, a 1-year-old Jersey/Normande and Smokey’s half-brother; Brandy, a pregnant, 3-year-old Jersey; Evee, a 3-year-old Angus; Florence, a 2-year-old Hereford/Shorthorn named after a 2018 hurricane; Guinness, a 9-month-old Angus and the son of Evee; Helene, a pregnant, 2-year-old Angus also named after a 2018 hurricane; Rain, a pregnant, 3-year-old Angus/Hereford; and Skipper, a 9-month-old Angus and the son of Hokie.
Led by farmer Paul Nicholson, the riderless cows raced from the far end of the field to the finish line, where some high-quality brewer’s grain from Aslan and Mustang Sally breweries awaited as a prize.
Park staff had spent the previous week getting the cattle to follow them as they carried a bucket, Nicholson said. Besides the brewer’s grain, enticements also included alfalfa hay, he said.
After the race began, the cows walked quickly (by bovine standards) to the finish.
“Not exactly Daytona 500 speeds here, but again, we’re dealing with a cold, somewhat wet track, so they could be being a little bit cautions,” said Van Vlack, doing the play-by-play.
Marybelle broke away from the pack at a fast trot and crossed the finish line first. Several stragglers took their time arriving.
“This was a dairy victory today,” Van Vlack summed up. “Marybelle and the Guernseys looking strong.”
Marybelle gets milked twice daily and the morning of the race had yielded 27 pounds (about 3 gallons) of milk, Nicholson said.
“We thought we would lighten her load before the race,” he said.
Frying Pan Farm Park is one of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s most heavily visited parks, drawing 750,000 people during its most popular year, Johnson said. Unlike going to the movies, the park offers interactive experiences for families, she said.
“You’re walking outside, you’re visiting the animals, you’re talking about what you’re seeing, you’re taking pictures,” Johnson said. “We’re really a big part of a lot of people’s family memories, their youth memories, their childhood memories.”
To view a video presentation about the race, visit https://youtu.be/mLDRuYUlC0k.
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