For Jim Mayo and his crew, inspiration struck over a bottle of wine. Or two, or maybe it was three?
Mayo was unimpressed when he first saw signs advertising Manitou Springs casket races a few years ago. He was in town from Texas to visit his son, who lives in Colorado Springs. “Well, how stupid is that?” he thought of the races.
But the idea percolated, haunting Mayo’s subconscious for two years until she returned with the right conditions: a family Christmas party. With alcohol.
“I said, ‘You know that stupid race we were talking about? Let’s go in,” Mayo said. “And here we are.”
Racers such as Mayo’s family travel from across the country to attend Manitou Springs’ annual Emma Crawford Coffin “stupid” races. The tradition, now in its 28th year, returns after a two-year hiatus due to COVID.
The race has its roots in a rather macabre moment in local history. Crawford was buried at Red Mountain when she died in 1891. An erosion later, her coffin resurfaced in 1929 and slid down the mountain into the canyon below, where it was found by two boys.
Competitors have a number of reasons for participating in Crawford’s namesake race or, in some cases, no reason at all.
A handful of residents who grew up in Manitou say competition is almost inevitable.
“As a little kid seeing this every year, you just think that’s what adults do,” said Curtis Jeffries, who competed with his six-man team on the “aquatic life” theme.
Things fell into place this year for his team, which had “always” wanted to compete but never found inspiration. What some might say was a well-placed announcement that others call divine intervention.
Ian “Papa Ianzie” Stewart, as he is known among his friends, came across a $5 coffin on Craigslist. His mind naturally went straight to the races, given his status as a lifelong resident of Manitou Springs.
“It was kind of like this sign from the gods, the gods of Craigslist,” said Mitch Kautza, a member of Stewart’s six-person team.
Registration is only half. Next comes the design of the coffin.
Most teams establish a theme to work from, such as the “Life Aquatic” team. Their bright blue uniforms and red hats were easily recognizable and provided a nice break from many of the darker themes that surrounded them, they said.
Others, like Pikes Peak Roller Derby, which is made up of “skating women,” have incorporated a hint of their business mission into their coffins. The team put together costumes for some of the most formidable women in film: Carrie, the Sanderson sisters from “Hocus Pocus”, Bride of Chucky and Bellatrix, to name a few.
“There’s nothing tougher than a horror lady,” said Brianna Salazar, dressed as Regan from “The Exorcist.” “Especially when she’s possessed and throwing up on herself.”
And Mayo, alongside his wife, Lulu, daughter Teri Thrower and friend John Little, drew inspiration from the promises of what is to come.
After the race, Mayo takes her family on a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, nicknaming them “Team Prereq” and donning Day of the Dead attire. They could only go, he said, if they agreed to participate in the race.
Regardless of the reason or theme, there’s a general consensus among runners that clinching first place is hardly the inspiration to push each other down a hill. More simply, it’s the fun of it all. That, and a sense of accomplishment.
“Our hope is just to finish with all of us at sea level,” Mayo said. “I think if we can do the first 10 feet we’re fine.”
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