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PALM LATITUDES

SPORT REPORT : The Tortoise and the Beer

May 15, 1994|Geoffrey Martin

Steve Wesolowski walks into Brennan's Pub in Marina del Rey with a swagger befitting his more than 500 victories. He studies the arena, a round green carpet about 12 feet in diameter, and takes a seat at ringside. Nearly every Thursday night for the last nine years, Wesolowski has come here with one goal--to win.

This is no place for sissies. The regulars understand that. And no one is more of a regular than Wesolowski and the 25 speedsters on his Terrapin Station Racing Team.

They're all his--no rentals (amateurs can rent a reptile for the evening for $3). He and his wife, Kelli, have even gone on trapping excursions in a Louisiana bayou searching for the perfect specimen--a beast that will improve his team's best time of 1.8 seconds from the center of the carpet to the edge.

Tonight, he's hoping to pit his Terrapin Flyer against the reigning queen of the Monster Division. Her name is Lascivious Lady--and this four-pound turtle has won more than 600 races. Joe Gresko is her trainer and coach. "Joe and I have a little unspoken rivalry going," Wesolowski says, "but I've beaten him many times before with my mainstays--Smokestack Lightning, Snowblind and Terrapin Flyer."

But Lascivious Lady is taking it easy these days--she's pregnant. So tonight Wesolowski has to be content with practice runs against lesser turtles. He stands and paces, claps his hands and gives his turtle a pep talk. The wins come fast and easy.

"I don't know what I'd call myself," Wesolowski admits. "A sportsman, outdoorsman, a professional turtle racer. I tell my buddies and people at work 'This is the king of sports.' They don't quite understand what it's like, or what I do or sacrifice. I feed the turtles fish and shrimp. They eat better than I do."

Wesolowski is building a natural habitat complete with a pond in his back yard. And he's waiting. When Lascivious Lady returns, it will be a grudge match.

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