EAST DUBLIN, Ga. - In his garage, Melvin Davis keeps 230 trophies he's won racing motorcycles, go-karts and pickup trucks. But he's best known for a sport that earned him four trophies topped with crushed Bud Lite cans.
"Yeah, looking back on it I'm proud. But when I done it I felt a little silly," said Davis, 68. "People were going, 'There's the bobbing-for-pigs-feet champion!' "
Bobbing for pigs feet, the mudpit belly-flop, the armpit serenade - they're all part of the Redneck Games, a series of good ole'ympic events for the ain't-so-athletic celebrating their 10th year in middle Georgia.
Started as a Southern-fried spoof of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, with a propane torch lighting a ceremonial barbecue grill, the gag games draw tourists like moths to a backyard bug-zapper.
Organizers estimate 95,000 attended the July event during its first decade in East Dublin, a rural pit stop of 2,500 residents between Macon and Savannah.
What started as a gathering of about 500 during the 1996 Olympics ballooned to 10,000 by 2001 and reached an estimated 15,000 last year. More are expected when the 10th Annual Redneck Games are held Saturday.
"It's hard to put your finger on why it blew up to what it was," said Jeff Kidd, program director for WQZY, the country radio station that cooked up the Redneck Games as an Olympic publicity stunt.
It worked. Media coverage from MTV to London's BBC has beamed word of the games around the globe.
"We have families do their reunions around the Redneck Games. We've had weddings in the past," Kidd said. "I don't think anybody takes it that seriously. Everybody has fun with it, and that's what it's all about."
The actual events, which have changed little over the years, hew to self-deprecating stereotypes and backwoods bawdiness.
The mudpit belly-flop judges contestants on their flabby form and sonic splat as they drop gut-first into muddy water, splattering nearby spectators.
The armpit serenade rates children on their musical skills pumping air through a damp hand beneath their underarm.
The 12-year-old winner in 2000 squeezed out a recognizable rendition of "Dixie."
There's also hubcap hurling - think junkyard discus - and redneck horseshoes, played with toilet seats.
The most competitive sport, however, is bobbing for pigs feet, where contenders dunk their heads in tubs of water to see how fast they can remove raw pork shanks with their teeth.
Davis, a retired state bridge inspector, won the title in the Redneck Games' first four years, and has been trying to reclaim it ever since. His record, he says, was clearing seven pigs feet in 13 seconds. His secret: bite for the tip of the hoof, not the flesh.
"Being that they're frozen, you can't grab them by the shank part, so you've got to get it by the toes," Davis said. "Now, there ain't many people who want to stick their head in a tank of water and get a raw, frozen pig's foot out of it, after what they've been walking through."
Davis has no problem describing himself as a redneck.
He has a dog named Bubba. He loves to eat fried rabbit. His Chevy pickup has a homemade hood ornament of an anatomically correct bulldog (unquestionably male).
Still, he's flummoxed that the Redneck Games have found such a large audience.
"They're so dang silly," Davis said. "Every year it's so hot, four or five people fall down from heat exhaustion. All they've got is porta-potties, and they smell so bad you've got to hold your breath until you get out."
Frank L. Fraser, publisher of Redneck World magazine, sees the games as another example - alongside the popularity of country music, NASCAR and the comedy television show Blue Collar TV - of folks embracing their inner good-ole-boy without the baggage of racist stereotypes.
Fraser estimates his magazine has 350,000 readers in 43 states.
"Most rednecks I know are just hard-working people who like barbecues and the outdoors," he said
Kidd says some locals, "the country-club people," have looked down on the Redneck Games as giving Laurens County a backward image of dirt roads and outhouses.
Many have stopped sneering, he said, because it's hard to bash proceeds from the $5 admission going to the East Dublin Lions Club and the economic spillover to local businesses.
Willie Paulk, president of the Laurens County Chamber of Commerce, said no economic impact studies have been done on the Redneck Games, though she says it's the third-largest public event in the county, behind the St. Patrick's Day celebration in neighboring Dublin and the Possum Hollow arts and crafts festival in nearby Dexter.
"While we appreciate the novelty of the Redneck Games, I don't think it should be looked at as the sole determinant in labeling a county," Paulk said. "So far it hasn't stopped our industries from locating here, which is wonderful."
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