At a time when most small animals are gathering food for winter, a gray squirrel named Twiggy will strap on a pair of tiny water skis and perform aquatic tricks at the Sept. 20-23 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
More than 100,000 people flock to the world’s largest automotive extravaganza annually to see thousands of cars of all makes and models, up to 50 car clubs displaying unique classics, a giant showcase pavilion and acre upon acre of automotive parts and memorabilia. This year, many more will come see Twiggy, a water-skiing squirrel, proving that there really is something for everyone at the Food Lion AutoFair.
Although the squirrel seems quite adept at jumping wakes and free-styling for the delight of humans, skiing is not a skill that comes easily to any rodent due to the complete absence of miniature speedboats in nature. Like most acts of strange behavior from the animal kingdom, this one has an unusual origin.
In 1978, Lou Ann and Chuck Best found a baby squirrel made homeless by hurricane winds, and they named the creature “Twiggy” because it had a habit of chewing houseplants to the point they were nothing more than twigs. The Bests enjoyed water sports year-round and Twiggy accompanied the family to lake outings near their Delton, Fla., home.
When Chuck and Lou Ann gave their daughter Lalainia a toy boat for her birthday, Chuck enjoyed the miniature watercraft so much that he joked he was going to teach Twiggy to water ski. His offhand remark seemed like such a good idea that the couple encouraged the squirrel to stand on some ski-shaped blocks of buoyant foam as the boat pulled her around.
Twiggy’s enthusiasm for marine recreation was featured in the local Sanford Herald newspaper, which led to coverage in the Orlando Sentinel and worldwide release on the United Press International news service. The Orlando ABC affiliate filmed Twiggy, and the footage became an Emmy award-winning segment on “Good Morning America.” From that first coverage sprang a novelty act that has performed in movies and on television shows and for live audiences in many countries.
The average gray squirrel’s lifespan is six years, which is why the Best nest has produced a total of eight Twiggys in the last 27 years. Twiggy VIII will hit the waves during scheduled shows on Friday and Saturday at the Food Lion AutoFair.
Hours for the Sept. 20-23 Food Lion AutoFair are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults or $25 for a four-day pass; children 13 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.