Monday, Jan. 19, 2009 | 7:04 p.m.
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Beyond the Sun
Racing down the track at a roaring 25 mph, 52 contestants in the Miss America pageant took a break from rehearsals Sunday to release some competitive energy at the Pole Position Raceway, 4175 S. Arville St., in Las Vegas.
None of the "NASCAR" states placed. Miss South Dakota Alexandra Hoffman took first place, followed by Miss Michigan Ashlee Baracy and Miss Wyoming Courtney Gifford. The winners walked away with trophies and some bragging rights.
"All of the girls go out once for a qualifier. We take the top 10 girls for a run-off with trophies for the top three girls," Pole Position Raceway managing partner Brad Mark said. "There's Miss Congeniality and now there's the fastest beauty contestant."
The track has been open for about a year. This is the first year the pageant competition has included a go-karting component, organizers said.
"It should be a really neat venue where they're not on stage, they're not in a fashion show. They can really let their hair down and relax tonight," he said.
All the women put on ski-caps and helmets before getting behind the wheel. With safety -- and the all-important Saturday competition -- in mind, they circled the track at about 25 mph, the second-slowest speed. The slowest the cars can go is 5 mph, which is used to bring the cars to the starting line.
Miss Nevada Julianna Erdesz, from Reno, joked that she was excited she didn't have to style her hair for the event and that she could just "hang out" with the competition.
"I don't spend too much time in Vegas because I'm from up north in Reno, so it's been really fun to experience it and do things I've never done before," Erdesz said.
Many of the beauty queens, including Erdesz, had never driven a go-kart before. She said she was relying on her daily driving skills to try to make it to finals, though she quickly became notorious for fender-benders on the track.
She actually knocked Miss Wyoming into a wall during the first heat.
Miss South Carolina Anna Perry, of Florence, S.C., also took a bump from Erdesz, but she could have used the go-karting skills she gained as a child to maneuver around her.
"I wish that we could have had unlimited gas, but I heard we were stuck on level two, they wouldn't let us go any faster -- but I would've been a level-four driver," Perry said. "I started racing go-karts with my family when I was 10."
She jokingly said she failed her state miserably when, despite her experience -- and tactic of taking corners tightly, trying to pass as many people as possible -- she garnered only a sixth-place finish in the first heat.
The Miss America competition takes place Saturday at the Planet Hollywood hotel-casino. It will be televised on TBS at 5 p.m. local time.