HOT SPRINGS NATIONAL PARK, Arkansas — With the 2023 Stueart Pennington World Championship Running of the Tubs bathtub races fast approaching, the rivalry between the Hot Springs Police Department and the Hot Springs Fire Department for the Battle of the Badge title has already started to, er, catch fire.
The wildly popular bathtub races along World Famous Bathhouse Row in downtown Hot Springs will take place Saturday, June 3, and the cops and firefighters are already talking smack about their long-running annual mano a mano for bragging rights.
“The Battle of the Badge match has become an integral part of the World Championship Running of the Tubs,” Visit Hot Springs Special Events Manager Alexis Hampo said. “The one-on-one matchup features the two teams going all out down Central Avenue — no obstacles, no stopping, just pure willpower.” She was referring to the massively complex series of stops, starts, maneuvering, and rules enforcements that mark the other divisions of the Running of the Tubs.
“The firefighters won the coveted Battle of the Badge and the Pennington Cup Modified Division Trophy in 2022,” she said. “It was a clean sweep for the HSFD. Will the Police Department have it in them to take the title back?”
Police Sgt. Jarret Cantrell tossed down the gauntlet last week with a poem aimed at the rival firefighters:
“On this day of tub race delight,
“We know the firemen will put up a good fight.
“Even though in the end, we are on the same side
“Today is the exception so they may even run and hide.
“While they may rescue kittens from high trees above,
“The Police Officers are who people really love.
“They may even throw donuts to distract us in the beginning
“But we will be the ones doing all the winning.
“All we have to do is get far ahead
“And they will run back to their station and climb in their bed.”
Fire Department Driver Allen Goines, who also is the team manager for the HSFD Team I tub, er, fired back:
“As most of you know, HSFD has a storied tradition of winning.
“As the great Ricky Bobby [NASCAR hero in ‘Talladega Nights’] once said, ‘I’m pretty much the best there is . . . when I wake up in the morning . . . I think you all know the rest.’
“We love our brothers and sisters at the PD. Sergeant Cantrell said it best: ‘We’re on the same side.’ Who else would direct traffic for us at structure fires and car accidents?
“They talk a big game every year . . . but the record speaks for itself. We’re all just glad that they haven’t given up yet!
“All joking aside, we love our little brothers and sisters in blue and they’re welcome to come by and visit the trophy at Central Station anytime they want. We might even have some doughnuts that we’ll share with them.”
“Wow,” Hampo said, “this is serious.”
The rivalry in the Battle of the Badge has an 11-year history. The record now stands at:
2011 – Hot Springs Fire Department
2012 – Hot Springs Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #1
2013 – Hot Springs Fire Department
2014 – Hot Springs Fire Department
2015 – Hot Springs Fire Department
2016 – Hot Springs Fire Department
2017 – Hot Springs Police Department
2018 – Hot Springs Fire Department
2019 – Hot Springs Police Department
2020 – No races
2021 – Hot Springs Police Department
2022 – Hot Springs Fire Department
The bathtub races, which began in 2005, were canceled in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic. This year’s event will be the 17th running of the event.
The races will begin at 9 a.m. June 3 from the starting line in front of the Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa at the north end of the famed bathhouses along Central Avenue.
Bathtub racers compete in three divisions: Traditional Division (cast iron tubs); the Modified Division (fiberglass or plastic tubs); the Stock Tub Division (for teams from nonprofit organizations). Hampo said the lineup for the Modified Division is already full, but slots remain open for entries in the Traditional and Stock divisions. For information on entries call Alexis Hampo at 501-321-2027.
The Running of the Tubs is named in honor of the late Hot Springs businessman Stueart Pennington, who advocated tirelessly for the establishment of bathtub races to emphasize Hot Springs’ reputation as a thermal bathing mecca.
The annual Judging of the Tubs will be held Friday, June 2, at, 6 p.m. at Hill Wheatley Plaza.
“The Running of the Tubs is another of the great family-friendly celebrations that are so popular with our residents and visitors,” Visit Hot Springs Marketing Director Bill Solleder said. “The crowds lining Bathhouse Row and joining in the wacky fun by shooting Super Soakers at the racers have been growing every year as word spreads about this super free event.”