ROACHDALE, Ind. — Railroad executive Judge Roach may have given the Putnam County town of Roachdale its name, but the community’s fame most assuredly came from its annual roach races held throughout the 1980s.
Modeled after the racing of the Indianapolis 500, the first International Roach Race was held in July 1981.
WRTV reporter Sy Jenkins was on hand for the second running on July 4, 1982.
Organizers created a circular track that resembled the I-465 loop surrounding Indianapolis. The makeshift track even had the names of sponsors like Goodyear, Gould and STP written on it.
The six-legged racers were placed in the center of the track beneath the starting gate, which was a domed container with hand-drawn garage bays.
In line with race day traditions, a track announcer exclaimed, “Gentlemen, start your roaches!”
Roaches with names like Georgia Flash, Kermit Jr., the Green Machine, and the Hooch were ready to make their move.
The lid was removed and the bugs were off. The winner was whichever bug made it through the perimeter of the loop first.
After two fast-paced heats, two fatalities and one crash (into the fly paper guardrail) a roach named Turkey Merle was declared the winner.
Jenkins spoke with the owner of the winning bug, Larry Kersey.
“They don’t run far, but they run fast when you get the right vitamins in them,” Kersey said.
According to information provided by the Putnam County Museum, the first Roachdale Roach Race was organized by Jim Holland of The Optimist Club. The race held annually until the year 2000.