Nerds of a Feather

In the competitive world of pigeon racers, it takes one fast bird to deliver the coo de grace

Phalan says he is aware of Smith's wonderbird. Besides Quick Draw's lightning-speed performance, two other records were broken in the same race, he says. The birds enjoyed strong tail winds out of the west--15 to 30 miles per hour, to be exact. The race was bound to be a record breaker.

Which isn't to detract from Smith's bird's performance. "It doesn't matter what kind of record you're talking about," Smith says. "Human runners, Indy 500 drivers, anyone who breaks a speed record always has the wind on their side or some other advantage."

It's more than a little ironic in Smith's eyes that his bird broke the pigeon speed record on the same day that the much-ballyhooed Texas Motor Speedway, only a few miles to the south, opened to its beer-guzzling fans. "Shoot, people were going on and on about that track, and here I was with the fastest pigeon. And he did it on his own wing power."

The pigeon was so fast, in fact, that Smith was puttering around the house when it landed and isn't exactly certain when the bird came in. "I found him on the landing board at 11:28 a.m., and that was by accident, really. I wasn't expecting him till closer to noon."

So what are you saying, Rick? That the bird actually flew faster than 94 mph?

"Well, maybe," says Smith, a tall, sandy-redhead in Wrangler jeans and ostrich-skin cowboy boots. "There's no way of knowing how long he sat out there waiting for me."

The 42-year-old Smith, who owns a Denton floor-covering store with his father and sister, has bred and raced pigeons for as long as he can remember. "My dad remembers climbing up to the roof of the old Denton County Courthouse and catching wild pigeons, then bringing them back home and taming them," Smith says. All through high school and college, Smith fussed over his birds. His wife Becky, who was 17 when they married, remembers an essay she wrote for an English class while attending the University of North Texas. She called it My Life as a Pigeon Racer's Widow. "I got an A," Becky says.

Hard to believe that after all these accomplishments, Smith intends to hang up this hobby next year, and take an extended vacation with his wife. Their youngest daughter just graduated from high school. "I really have done this long enough," Smith says. "I need a break. And Becky, well, she really needs a break."

But his time spent on racing will never be regretted. Smith's breeding and homing lofts stand straight and tall on a grassy two acres, and Smith always found his pigeons a welcome sight after a long day at work. There were times when watching a bird fly in was the nearest thing he knew of heaven.

"I think the prettiest sight I ever saw was late one afternoon, getting close to sunset. It was a cloudless sky. I was standing out here next to the loft, and I saw this tiny speck in the sky out of the southwest. It got closer and closer, one of my birds, the only thing you could see in the sky.

"He approached, he folded his wings up like they do just before they dive for a landing. He had to have been going 75 miles an hour. He came like a bullet and made a perfect landing right on the roof of the loft. That bird was home.

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